Deputies commended for swift rescue

By Robert Salonga
Contra Costa Times
Article Launched: 09/08/2008 04:18:48 PM PDT

Four Contra Costa County deputies will receive commendations this week for a swift Delta rescue of two stranded Jet Ski users in pitch-black darkness during Labor Day weekend.
Deputies Ryan Borkert, Jim Lambert and Tom Mellott, along with pilot John Meyers, were part of the fast-moving effort involving both the sheriff's air and marine patrols, said marine unit commander Lt. Will Duke.
Lambert and Mellott were in their sheriff's patrol boat in the Delta about 9:30 p.m. Aug. 31, approaching the Sherman Lake area north of Pittsburg, when they heard yelling, Duke said. Typically, on a holiday weekend, he said, it's normal for boats to anchor for the night and engage in some revelry.
But this yelling was not the hooting and hollering of folks having a good time, Duke said.
The two deputies could not see much. Night had fallen and a bevy of tule brush would have obscured vision in the daytime, let alone pitch-black darkness.
"Somebody could be right around the corner and you can't see them," Duke said.
So they summoned the sheriff's helicopter STARR 2, operated by Meyers and Brokert.
Using the helicopter's spotlight, the air patrollers spotted two people floating in the water next to Jet Skis, which had either run out of gas or experienced mechanical trouble. They directed Lambert and Mellott to them, and within 20 minutes the Jet Ski users were on the sheriff's boat covered in wool blankets and being fed hot soup, Duke said.

Duke said the quick response and familiarity of the waters by Lambert, the marine unit's senior officer with a lifetime of experience boating in the Delta, helped contribute to a successful rescue.
"They're being commended for a diligent patrol that enabled them to be in the right place at the right time," Duke said. "And we don't have anybody who knows the Delta as well as Lambert."
The stranded boaters had gone out with borrowed Jet Skis and weren't familiar with the waters, Duke said. They had been in the water for several hours — wearing life jackets— but were unable to be seen or heard because of the terrain.
It's one example of why boaters need to be prepared with some basic amenities and strategies when heading out into the Delta, Duke said.
For instance, Duke recommends that boaters carry a cell phone, and in the case of an emergency, to call sheriff's dispatchers at 925-646-2441 to get a prompt marine patrol response. Dialing 9-1-1 directs callers to California Highway Patrol dispatchers in Vallejo who may not be familiar with Delta geography, adding minutes to an emergency response.
If possible, Duke said boaters should also carry a portable GPS unit, since it can provide coordinates that would allow both the marine and air patrols to pinpoint an exact location.
A final suggestion for Delta boaters, Duke said, is relatively low-tech — come up with a "float plan" notifying shore-based friends or family where they're going and how long they plan to be there.
"That way, if they're overdue," Duke said, "we know where they're going to be."
Reach Robert Salonga at 925-943-8013 or [email protected].