KEY LARGO, Fla. – A Hollywood boy, drifting alone onboard the family boat off Key Largo, helped save his grandparents in the ocean.
They were clinging to pool noodles.
“They were just floating away,” recalls 11-year-old Avani Perez.
The frightening turn of events happened last Thursday, when the family was enjoying a day on the ocean near Rodriguez Key.
The anchor line of their 21-foot center console Mako got caught in the propeller. Jim Harris, Perez' grandfather, went into the water to free the line and ended up cutting it.
“I turn around and they are 20, 30 feet away already,” Harris said.
His wife, Kimberly, jumped into the water with pool noodles, fearing she wouldn’t be able to toss a throw far enough to reach him. Neither could get back to their grandson.
Perez found a phone and called 911.
On the other end was Monroe County Sheriff’s Office communications specialist Amanda Coleman.
“Your grandparents - and they have noodles right now, right? Not life vests, but they’re floating on noodles?” Coleman asked.
“They’re floating on noodles,” Perez replied.
Coleman made sure they were still within eyesight, which they were.
The two stayed on the line for about an hour.
Perez, an experienced boater for his young age, was able to give Coleman the GPS coordinates from the boat’s GPS. He also knew his relative position from Rodriguez Key.
Coleman gave him words of encouragement until help arrived.
“I don’t want you to hang up until we get help to you,” she said. “You’re doing a fantastic job.”
Good Samaritans, officers from Florida Fish and Wildlife, and a crew from the Coast Guard arrived and rescued the family, who were incredibly grateful for the coordinated effort.
“Thankful for our law enforcement people,” said Kim Harris. “But we are even more thankful for them for what they did to help us.”
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay praised the effort.
“The outcome of this case could well have been tragic had 911 Communications Specialist Amanda Coleman not stepped up to the plate,” he said.
Perez said he was initially shaken by the turn of events, but realized he was able to handle the situation.
“When I got an idea what was going on and could think of what was happening, I knew we were fine,” he said.