TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Buccaneers backup quarterback Brian Gabbert became an unlikely hero after a helicopter crashed in Tampa’s Hillsborough Bay on Thursday.
He and his two brothers were cruising the neighborhood on a motorboat, checking out a yacht club’s sailboats from a distance, when they heard “faint noises” south of Davis Island and rushed there.
“I just remember looking west and seeing it was almost like a crew boat in the water and it had disintegrated into about four pieces and I vaguely remembered seeing two yellow life jackets so I said ok we gotta go check it out Gabbert told a news conference on Friday, with local authorities standing behind him like proud parents.
The brothers rushed to the crash site to find a sinking helicopter and several people in need of rescue.
“The youngest kid just came up and said he was pinned down there and I asked if anyone else was trapped and I called 911 and tried to stay calm,” Gabbert said.
He pulled two of them to the surface and boarded his motorboat, while his brothers helped the third. A fourth crew member was rescued from the water by authorities, and Gabbert said they arrived in record time.
The pilot and three passengers were touring the area in a helicopter when they heard a loud bang and the helicopter lost power, the Tampa Police Department said in a statement. The pilot made an emergency landing in the water.
Tampa Bay Police Sergeant Dan Spears said Gabbert and his brothers had “actually just completed the rescue” when they arrived.
“It’s an impressive feat, no doubt about it,” Spears said. “They’re very calm – they’ve done a good job at that … one of the most dangerous situations on a plane is when the helicopter is upside down and landing on water and trying to get away instead of being trapped in it, so it’s a pretty alarming situation every time. Everyone is out.
Gabbert said he drove the jet ski to shore, where the fire department met them.
“I was like, hold on tight,” he said he told his two drivers. “We’ll get to the beach as fast as we can, dry you off, and make you a cup of coffee to warm up.”
On Friday, Tampa Bay Police named Gabbert an honorary member of their Marine Corps.
“It’s interesting that time slows down in those cases,” Gabbert said. “I just want them to dry and warm as quickly as possible.”
Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles called the rescue “remarkable.”
“Anytime you can find a guy who drops everything to help someone he doesn’t even know, doesn’t even think about it, takes their life into his own hands, helps someone else save theirs, that says a lot about that person, “He said. “And that’s what Brian did.”
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