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Fifteen and a Half Hours in the Neuse
Brief swim turns into all-nighter
September 22, 2022

“I
am so glad to be out of the water.”

It was the first thing Ronnie Antry said to Kathy Rose and her family as they hoisted him out of the Neuse River. It was about a quarter to eleven in the morning, she said, when they found him floating in the water, no boat in sight.

The day before, August 10, Ronnie had set out from New Bern to Beaufort on his 2006 Key West power vessel. He planned to enjoy a day on the water near Carrot Island. At 4:30, he called his wife to let her know he would be staying for dinner, something he’d done several times before. The dinner and the trip through Adams Creek and back up to New Bern meant Ronnie would return home after his wife had gone to bed.

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Both photos show Ronnie Antry. The second pinpoints his location in the water. (Photos courtesy Kathy Rose)

Dinner finished, Ronnie left Beaufort around 6p. He hit the mouth of Adams Creek, “about upriver a mile or so” around 7p.

As he’d often done before, Ronnie donned his PFD – a 10-year-old blue and gray ski jacket – and jumped in the water to cool down. There was little to no wind, as far as he could tell, so there was no need to anchor the boat. He turned on the navigation lights before leaping into the water.

“Immediately when I came up the boat was moving away from me faster than I could catch it,” he said. “Must have been a current, or the wind.” Ronnie tried to reach the vessel, but it was too quick. “Just watched the boat drift down river away from me.”

Night was setting in, and the moon was nearly full. There were no other boats around. “I thought to myself ‘remain calm,’ he said. He reasoned he only had to survive until morning and in the warm waters in August, hypothermia wasn’t a great concern.

Ronnie could see lights on both shores and attempted to dog paddle to land. He said he couldn’t seem to make any progress. “I saw markers and signs… at night, they didn’t seem to change.”

He expected the night to be a long one, Ronnie said, “but it only seemed like a couple of hours.” There weren’t many boats out early, though he did see a few sailboats around 9a. “They looked nearby, but were probably about a mile away.” About an hour later, Ronnie caught sight of the power boat carrying Kathy Rose and her husband, and other members of their family.

Kathy heard him, says Ronnie, but couldn’t see him. “The wind started kicking up,” he said. The ski vest he’d been wearing “was not designed for long term buoyancy.” The wind, the waves, and failing PFD were all cause for concern.

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Ronnie holds onto a ring buoy as he is pulled up to the Rose’s boat. (Photos courtesy Kathy Rose)

Kathy and her husband, along with her brother and his partner Celine were headed to Beaufort for the day. They had decided to motor slowly through and were about halfway through the river. Then she heard something.

“I started scanning, looking around. I saw a hand waving. And then I heard ‘help’,” she said.

Kathy they pulled up near and threw a ring buoy to him and hauled him up to the boat.

As they pulled him, Kathy noticed he was weak from treading water. He had abrasions on his arms and face where the life jacket had been rubbing.

“A little crab was on his bathing suit string and it fell off on the Armstrong bracket on the boat.” His feet and hands were pale, though Kathy says his color was other wise good. He had a thin coating of slime on him from being in the water for so long.

“I am so glad to be out of the water,” Ronnie told them. The second thing he said? “I think I need to go to the hospital.”

As they were administering what first aid they could, a call came in over the radio from the Coast Guard about a possible abandoned boat floating in the river. Ronnie thinks it floated about 11 miles away from Adams Creek.

Kathy called Ronnie’s wife. She wasn’t concerned that he wasn’t there when she went to bed, “but was alarmed when I wasn’t there when she got up at 5:30a.” Steps had already been taken to begin searching for him.

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Left: Celine and Kathy help rehydrate Ronnie. Right, Pamlico Rescue checks out Ronnie before taking him to the hospital. (Photos courtesy Kathy Rose)

As Ronnie and the Roses met with Pamlico Rescue back on land (the trip to Beaufort was postponed for another day), the Coast Guard towed Ronnie’s Key West to Hobucken where his brother would later pick it up.

At the hospital, Ronnie found out his vitals were mostly normal for a 70 year old man. The doctor did advise him to see his primary care physician for a followup – he had, they told him, “undergone a 15 1/2 hour stress test.”

Ronnie has not been deterred from going on the water again; he’s recently retired from 47 years working for Craven County, and plans to enjoy it. “I just won’t be so foolish next time. I’ll anchor the boat or make sure I’m tied to it.”

“I told my husband, ‘this is a good lesson for us, too. Slow down. Be thankful.’ Cause usually we just haul boogity over there,” Kathy said. “It’s a good lesson just to slow down. Breathe. Look at the beauty here.”

The Antrys are planning on taking The Roses out to dinner in October. To say thank you for pulling Ronnie out of the water.

Posted Thursday September 22, 2022 by Allison DeWeese


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