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Fisherman Describes Harrowing Rescue In Sea Of Cortez

A San Diego-area fisherman and his father are being hailed as heroes for saving the lives of nearly a dozen people on Sunday after a chartered fishing boat capsized in the Sea of Cortez.

Above: A chartered fishing boat, the Erik, capsized in the Sea of Cortez near San Felipe on Sunday, July 3, 2011.

Mike Kalicki and his father were at their beach house in Baja California on Sunday afternoon when they got a call about a sunken fishing vessel in nearby waters off the coast of San Felipe. A sudden storm had struck 14 hours earlier, capsizing the 105-foot (32-meter) vessel, the Erik.

Audio

Aired 7/7/11

Mike Kalicki talks about the weather conditions the night the fishing vessel capsized.

Kalicki said they immediately went out in their much smaller boat to search for survivors, and within 15 minutes they came upon a lone man named Wayne clinging to debris.

“Dad and I looked at each other and we said he may have had another two to three hours, and he was out of it – delirious, delusional – hard to get in the boat because he had nothing left," Kalicki said. "He had the will – I could see the spark. And he kept saying 'thank you, thank you,' and crying and crying. We got him in, but it was all dead weight and it was so darn hard.”

Kalicki said he gave the man food and water, and the shirt off his back to protect him from the sun, and they continued their search. "And eight minutes later we found nine more men in bad shape, clinging on to life -- eight Mexicans and one American."

Audio

Aired 7/7/11

Mike Kalicki talks about the harrowing rescues in the Sea of Cortez.

But Kalicki's boat could only hold two more. "So with nine people in the water, we threw bottles of water to them, which made them smile, and we let them know that they were going to be OK."

He called for help and gave rescuers a GPS location, but he worried some of the men were deteriorating quickly.

"Fortunately we saw another fishing boat eight miles to the north of us." Kalicki shot a flare gun to get their attention.

"Thank God, they saw the flare and pulled up along side within five minutes."

Kalicki and his father rescued their final survivor, Dennis, at 9:15 p.m. He said his heart aches for those who are still missing.

“You kind of have an adrenaline rush going and you’re hoping to find more, hoping to find more, and I guess I kind of lost it later, when the six Americans or eight couldn’t be found ... I felt that we had failed them. And where are they?"

Kalicki said the fishermen had just seconds to escape the sinking boat after the waves struck.

“Every American was asleep in their berths down below. The only alarm they got was a couple of the guys had started sucking in salt water, waking up to a cabin room full of water and screaming as loud as they could ‘get out, get out, get out.’ And that was all the time they had was about 30 seconds.”

Audio

Aired 7/7/11

Mike Kalicki said he found it odd that all of the men were wearing only their underwear.

Kalicki said Dennis, the last survivor he picked up, told him he was in the boat's wheelhouse with the captain when the waves struck. "And he asked the captain, 'why aren't you doing a may day?," but seconds later the boat was sinking, and Dennis was floating away," Kalicki explained.

Many of the survivors are hailing Kalicki as their hero. But Kalicki said he just did what was put in front of him.

"I'm not a big spiritual man, but I told God 'thank you.' He gave us a hand because it's nice to be able to find people alive and to be able to give them hope again that they have a chance."

Kalicki is planning to reunite with the survivors later this month.

Until then, he said he'll hold on to two of the survirors’ life-jackets as a reminder of what happened.

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