SATELLITE BEACH, Fla. – It was three years ago Friday when 19 manatees were log-jammed in a Satellite Beach storm drain, leading to an incredible 12-hour rescue that was broadcast across the world.
The unprecedented situation happened in front of Satellite Beach City Hall along Cassia Boulevard near the Indian River Lagoon on Feb. 23, 2015, and News 6 anchor Justin Warmoth was one of the first reporters on the scene.
"Apparently they were trying to get to some fresh water, and one followed the next one, followed the next one, followed the next one, and they all got stuck in the pipe," Warmoth reported during the live broadcast.
Satellite Beach resident John Burd was one of the hundreds who gathered to watch the rescue in person.
When asked if he felt excitement or worry while watching the rescue, Burd replied, "It was a little of both. You're worried for them, but it was like, 'Wow, look at this coordination that's taking place.'"
That coordination was thanks in part to the Satellite Beach Fire Department, which is just a few hundred yards from where the manatees were first spotted.
"We do not prepare for this directly," Chief Don Hughes said. "The reality is I don't think any department really plans for a large mammal rescue that was of this magnitude."
After three years, News 6 went back to the drainage pipe the manatees got stuck in, and it was tough to tell where rescuers pulled up the landscape to get to the pipe.
"This wasn't just as simple as opening up a man cover and pulling them up," Hughes said. "We had to excavate road, dig down, remove dirt, and cut a pipe open."
The Fire Department also called in reinforcements, including the John Peterson and the SeaWorld Rescue team.
"We made what we call a chute," Peterson said. "We put a piece of wood down, loaded a manatee on a stretcher, picked them up, moved them over to a health assessment area, got them assessed, and from there we relocated them back into natural waters."
There is one big unknown: Why did this happen?
Some put the blame on Florida Fish and Wildlife for allowing the manatees to seek refuge in the canal. Others say it the city's fault for not having a grate in front of the now-infamous pipe.
One thing is for sure, though. Satellite Beach and sea cows will always be synonymous.
"Still today I have people saying, 'Satellite Beach? Aren't you the guys who rescued the sea cows?' Of all the things to be known for, that's it," Hughes said. "But I'd rather it be for something positive than for something negative."