Brevard County family rescues capsized boaters

Stranded boaters spotted on way back from vacation

By Victoria Lyons - Producer

FORT PIERCE, Fla. - A Central Florida family rescued a group of stranded boaters off the coast of Fort Pierce.

Off-duty Palm Bay firefighter Cliff Schoonmaker was with his wife, daughter, brother-in-law and a family friend when they spotted some debris in the water. They were on their way back from a week-long trip in the Bahamas.  His daughter, Chrissy, was the one who insisted something was not right and her dad went off course to check it out.

They found an overturned vessel.  There was a woman lying on top of the boat and three others clinging to the side.  There was also a dog that was thrashing around the water in distress.

Schoonmaker radioed the U.S. Coast Guard and told them his location with GPS coordinates.

The victims said they had radioed earlier that they were taking on water and requested assistance.  A tow boat had been contacted but was unable to locate the boat.

Schoonmaker and his family pulled the victims out of the water and into their boat.  They waited with them until another tow boat arrived.

"It was almost like your mind was playing tricks on you," said Chrissy Schoonmaker about seeing the overturned vessel from a distance.  "We weren't really sure what it was, but I'm just happy we made the decision to check it out and that we were able to help."   

Chrissy's firefighter father, Cliff, doesn't think he did anything special and chalks it up to just being at the right place at the right time.  

"We did what anyone else would have done in the situation," he said.  "I'm just glad my daughter saw it and we were able to help out."

The Schoonmakers don't know how long the family was in the water but described the group of two men, two women and a dog, some as being in shock, but all grateful they were rescued.

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