TAMPA — One Friday afternoon, the Buccaneers’ season was filled with moments of unfulfillment, and this one was at its most surreal and ironic.
Standing in front of a row of cameras in a plush studio, the quarterback, who hasn’t had a meaningful photo in nearly a year, finds himself recounting how fate forced him to undergo the most crucial acceleration session of his life.
Blaine Gabbert, an unknown figure as Tom Brady’s understudy for the past three seasons, is suddenly on the national stage and dubbed a “citizen hero” .
“I just felt like I was doing the right thing at the right time,” Gabbert told reporters.
About 20 hours earlier, Gabbert, 33, was jet skiing with his two younger brothers on a jet ski near the Davis Islands, inspecting sailboats at a nearby yacht club, when he peered west and spotted what “almost looked like It’s a crew boat in the water” in four or so pieces. “
“I vaguely remember seeing two yellow life jackets,” Garbert said. “So I was like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to go check it out.’ It looked like they were being coerced.”
what the brothers found was An underwater helicopter – used for sightseeing tours on Thursday – was carrying four passengers.
All of them — Hunter Hupp, 28, his 62-year-old father, 59-year-old mother and 33-year-old pilot — had evacuated when the plane arrived at Gabberts (taking up two motorboats).
Covered in engine oil and trembling all over, clutching life jackets that had not yet been fully inflated, the family of three was pulled onto a jet ski by the brothers and brought to shore. Gabbert returned to pick up the pilot and called 911.
“I’ve got four guys on my jet ski right now,” Gabbert was heard saying of himself and his brother in a recording of the 911 call released by the Tampa Police Department Friday afternoon.
“Are they safe?” the 911 dispatcher asked. Gabbert said he and his brothers have them.
“Anyone hurt?” Moments later, Gabbert can be heard asking those who were with him. Someone in the background of the call replied: “No.”
Gabbert provided more details during a news conference Friday at the AdventHealth Training Center.
“I had two on my jet ski, my brothers had one. The pilot was still in the water, and that’s when you stopped the boat,” he said, addressing Tampa Police Department Marines who were also there. The two members nodded.
“I dragged (the navigator) a little bit towards the boat and he got on board. Luckily we were about 250 meters from the beach so we took him to the beach.”
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Police have released audio from four other 911 calls related to the incident. Among those calls from those on shore, some said they could see life jackets hundreds of yards offshore.
“Nobody’s come up yet,” another told dispatchers, who could see the boat “speeding” towards the crash site, as others noted.
After the rescue, Hepp said the helicopter trip – a Christmas present – was coming to an end and they were planning to land at the airport when he heard the rotors pop overhead. Tampa Police Lt. Daniel College said the helicopter’s engine failed.
“I’m surprised I’m standing here talking to you,” Hepp said in an interview at the airport on Thursday.
When the helicopter plunged into the water and began to sink, Hopp said he became entangled in the harness and rope. He said he struggled to get out when his parents and the pilot escaped and climbed to the surface.
Eventually, Hupp broke free and made his way back to the surface, where he met rescuers.
The effort prompted Major David Arthur of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to consider Gabbert a “civic hero.” Tampa Police Interim Chief Libercow named him an honorary member of the Marine Patrol.
Coach Todd Bowles praised Gabbert for his selflessness. Naturally, teammates — namely center Ryan Jansen and tight end Cameron Blatt — mercilessly mocked his newfound fame.
“Oh, you can’t imagine,” Gabbert said.
Gabbert grew up in Missouri, married with a daughter, and a lifelong fly fisherman. But admitted on Friday that he had no formal water safety training.
“I’d say I’m a really good swimmer, but that’s about it,” he said.
Upon encountering stranded passengers, his first instinct was to instruct them on how to pull the mantle, inflate the lifejackets and rescue them from the icy waters of Hillsborough Sound.
After loading his two passengers — including Hupp’s mother — into his jet ski, he said he accelerated quickly so the boat wouldn’t capsize.
“I was like, ‘Ma’am, you’ve got to hang on, or you’re going to fly away again,'” he said.
“Any time you can find a guy who drops everything to help people he doesn’t even think about, takes their lives into his own hands and helps other people save theirs, that says a lot about that guy,” Powers said. “And that’s what Brian did.”
Still, Gabbert tried to downplay his role in the rescue, telling reporters “you guys would do the exact same thing I did. I just happened to be in that situation.”
In this surreal week, any hope of obscurity will have to wait until Sunday, when another Buccaneers quarterback is once again in the national spotlight.
“Well done, sir,” Arthur told Gabbert.
“Honestly, I’d like to remain anonymous,” Gabbert said. “I just feel like I’m doing the right thing at the right time. I’m not someone who gets into the limelight easily. I just try to keep a low profile.”