Boaters Rescue Air Crash Survivors

Richard and Sue
.. .
In rescues at sea, boater are most often the rescuees, except in recent cases of motor boats or yachts who come across illegal refugees in leaky boats, when the role is reversed and they become rescuers. But it must have been a scary day for a couple from Suffolk England this week, when they first had a small aeroplane almost collide with them off the coast of Florida, and then became the rescuers in a bizarre incident.

Richard Ballam and Sue Powell have been hailed as 'angels' after they saved the lives of two charity workers whose aircraft plunged into the Atlantic Ocean following an engine failure.

They were were sailing in their yacht Impetuous from Palm Beach, Florida, to Chub Cay in the Bahamas when the Cessna 208 lost power and went down near to Andros Island, and just beside the yacht.

The two pilots of the craft, who were working for Agape Flights Inc - a missionary organisation that regularly delivers supplies to the Dominican Republic and Haiti - were miraculously unhurt.

The men, who were heading for South Florida, were able to struggle free of the plane and swim to the surface.

Moments later they were picked up by Mr Ballam, from Bury St Edmunds, and Ms Powell, who lives in Woodbridge.

In an email sent after the crash the couple told friends and relatives: 'It [the aircraft] flipped upside down and broke up leaving wreckage and two swimmers.

'We were able to deploy our Lifesling and pick up the two pilots...unharmed. No one else on board. We called for assistance and transferred them to a fast sports boat to get them quickly to Chub Cay and to call off the air sea rescue they had called for.

'We were told today they were on missionary work from Palm Beach, so someone was looking out for them.

'Now there's a plane wreck in 15-20ft of water in quite a busy place so we hope coastguards can warn mariners and someone can set buoys near the wreck. When we left the tail was still sticking out of the water. Very dangerous at night and by day if it goes under.'

The rescued men were later named by US TV as missionaries Rocky Miller and Paolo Costa, who had been delivering supplies to victims of Hurricane Noel.

The men had dropped off cargo in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, and were on their way to Palm Beach International Airport to clear US Customs when their single-engine turboprop dropped off radar.

Air traffic controllers at Miami notified the US Coastguard and a Falcon jet and rescue helicopter were dispatched to hunt for the plane.

The search was called off when the Coastguard was informed the men had been picked up by the Impetuous and taken to Chub Cay.

Mr Miller told a US TV station: 'We were probably about 45 minutes out and all at once everything just stopped.

'About 2,500ft we knew we were going to have to put in the water so we set up for a final glide that would put us about a 100ft from this boat.

'I remember the first spray and that's all I remember. There was no land around and no islands around. We probably should have died in the accident.'

Mr Costa added: 'It is a miracle that we are alive because when the aircraft went over it was so fast and so disorienting. It was a near death experience. I do believe there were some angels dispatched for us.'

Mr Ballam, 65, a retired solicitor, is an extremely experienced yachtsman and in his youth spent time sailing around the world.

His sister, Mary Gaskin, a retired teacher who lives in Westerfield Road, Ipswich, said he has always had a love of the water and many years ago was part of a team that raced a yacht from America to Norway as part of King Olaf's birthday celebrations.

'Richard has had a boat in Florida for three or four years, although the one they have at the moment is only a year old,' she said. 'He is extremely experienced and has always enjoyed sailing - he's had a boat on the Deben for years and years.

'He and Sue left just before Christmas. I'm not sure exactly where they are headed but I know as there's only two of them they didn't want to push themselves too hard.

'They are both very young at heart and the rescue doesn't surprise me at all. He's a very good sailor and doesn't take risks. I would feel totally confident with him. He knows what he's doing. I just think that those pilots were extremely lucky that Richard and Sue happened to be nearby.'