An impromptu family picnic on St. Simons Island turned to dread Tuesday evening for a Bosier City, La., father, whose son waded into the surf near dusk and did not return.
Blake Stataro, 19, had gone into the shallow surf at Gould’s Inlet just to rinse the sand off. But the strong currents accompanying the outgoing tide caught him off guard, sweeping him out of the swift-flowing inlet and out to sea. A massive nighttime search ensued, involving the Glynn County Fire Department, county police, the U.S. Coast Guard, the county Emergency Management Agency’s search and recovery team, the Stataro family and locals who loaned their time to the effort.
Kirk Stataro never left the beach, fearing the worst and praying for the best. Around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Stataro received a call on his cellphone from a number he did not recognize.
“I was walking up and down the beach and calling for him,” Stataro said. “About this time I get a call, from a number I’ve never seen. All of a sudden it was my son. He said ‘Dad, I’m OK.’ I just went straight to my knees and broke down.”
After getting swept out to sea by the swift currents, Blake kept his wits about him, Stataro said. Blake spent 10 hours in the water, alternating between swimming and floating. He tried to keep his position fixed with a bright onshore light from adjacent Sea Island the whole time, the young man later recalled to his dad.
As Wednesday dawned, Blake managed to swim ashore and walk up to the course at Sea Island’s Ocean Forest Golf Club. A course maintenance employee loaned him his phone to call his dad.
The Coast Guard and the county fire department’s Water Rescue Unit had been forced to postpone the search for Blake at around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. The county’s water rescue unit had just resumed their search Wednesday when they heard the good news.
“Nobody had a good feeling after a while, to be honest,” said Kyle Brown, a member of the water rescue unit. “We didn’t expect a good outcome, but we were thrilled when the father got that phone call that he had been found and he was OK.”
Blake was taken by ambulance to the emergency room at Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick hospital to get a medical check, then released, Brown said.
The family, 11 folks total, had visited Valdosta, then decided Tuesday to drop in for a quick visit with friends living on St. Simons Island. Stataro then decided to do a little grilling on the beach, while the rest of the family cavorted around Gould’s Inlet.
Then Blake turned up missing after a quick head count of family members before eating. After a fruitless quick search of the immediate area, the family called 911 at around 9 p.m. Coast Guard helicopters and boats joined the county law enforcement, water rescue members and others in an extensive search for Blake.
“You just can’t imagine all the difficult emotions we went through,” Stataro said. “I didn’t leave the beach. I was hoping maybe he got on a sandbar out there. The locals told me there are some large sandbars out there. But the longer it gets, the more you think other things.”
But Blake spent the night concentrating on survival.
“He just stayed calm,” Stataro said. “He never panicked. He floated. Then he would swim till he got tired and float some more. He’s a trooper, a tough young man. And the Lord was with him.”