EASTERN CAROLINA - Beaufort County fisherman Patrick Small has returned home. But after surviving the rough waves that capsized his boat off the Maryland coast, he said he's not sure when he'll head back out into the water.
"I'm just happy I made it back, you know what I mean? It's a blessing, that's all I can say," Small told NewsChannel 12 at his home in the town of Bath on Friday.
Small was one of three men aboard the 67-foot fishing boat, Seafarer, when it sent out a distress signal at about 10:39 a.m. Wednesday, 15 miles east of Assateague Island, MD. The two other crew members, 80-year-old Walter Tate and his nephew, 60-year-old Stephen Tate, both of Pamlico Beach, are still missing.
Small said during the whole ordeal, he thought about his wife and his five children. When he was reunited with them Thursday night, they were overjoyed.
"First thing I did was I ran to him and I kissed him and I held him," said Morgan, Small's wife.
"I was just like, going crazy," said Haley Burbage, Small's stepdaughter. "I was glad he's alright and safe.
Small said there was no time to prepare for the conditions that capsized his ship Wednesday morning.
"[It was the] biggest wave I've ever seen. When it caught us, that was it, it was over. Fifteen seconds and our boat was in pieces," Small said. "The wave crested and came out and smashed our side and it started filling up with water. The water had me pinned to the roof and a second later, the pressure just ripped the roof off and pummeled the cabin, washed me out onto the back."
The Coast Guard found Small clinging to a raft, and was able to hoist him to safety on Wednesday. Small's wife watched the video of the rescue.
"It was scary for me especially when I saw it," Morgan said. "I cried."
Small said staying alive and waiting to be rescued was not easy.
"The nurse told me I shouldn't have lasted 45 minutes in that water. I was in it for about an hour and a half before I could get a life raft," Small said. "If I wasn't out there and it happened to me, I wouldn't believe the stuff that I was telling you."
Coast Guardsmen said they searched 560 square nautical miles for the other two crew members, Walter and Stephen Tate. But there was no sign of the two men, and the Coast Guard suspended the search Thursday afternoon, pending further developments.
According to Daphne Peterson, daughter of Walter Tate, the Coast Guard found a field of torn-up debris in the Atlantic Ocean. Coast Guardsmen also discovered three life vests, meaning the crew members were not wearing them, Peterson said. In addition, the crew's survival suits were still in their packaging.
"In my heart, I don't think they'll be found this time," said Peterson. "There's too much damage; too much went on. [The] water is cold. They didn't have survival suits on. They wouldn't have lasted long in that cold water."
According to the Seafarer's owner, the boat became disabled Wednesday and was being towed by its sister ship. But as the weather became worse, the sister ship lost the tow and also lost sight of the fishing boat, the owner said.
Peterson remembered her last moments with her father, Walter Tate, the Friday before he disappeared.
"The last words I said to him were 'be careful' and he said 'I got to.' And I told him I loved him and he said he loved me," Peterson said, who added that her father had been rescued by the Coast Guard four times before this incident.
Walter Tate has three children, 10 grand children and 11 great-grandchildren. He has been a fisherman since he was a teen, Peterson said. Tate worked for the Lee Bland Williams company in Swan Quarter. The fish that he caught were distributed by Hobo Seafood.
His nephew, Stephen Tate, went with him on the fishing trip to fill in for someone else, Peterson said. Stephen is not married and does not have children.
Their ship, Seafarer, was based out of Scranton, in Hyde County. According to the Coast Guard, the boat was heading to Chincoteague, Virginia, when the distress signal was issued.