Mary Cumbee called it her worst nightmare when her child could not be found, and as the night went on, she began to fear the worst.
On Sunday June 1, Cumbee’s son Calvin Jr., and his friends Kaleb Caddell and Jessica Jessup took the family boat out for a day on Lake Moultrie.
“It was a perfect day,” Caddell said. “Sunny, blue skies, nice puffy clouds, a great day to be on the lake.”
But in a matter of seconds, that great day turned into a nightmare for the three boaters, and especially Mary Cumbee.
“You know something is wrong because you know they are supposed to be home by now, but it’s getting late and we haven’t heard a word from Buddy, or anyone,” she said. “We didn’t know where they were and we couldn’t find them.”
That’s when Calvin Cumbee Sr. called the Berkeley County Rescue Squad.
“We knew they were late and were supposed to be back by 5:30 p.m. but it was now getting dark and we hadn’t heard anything from them at all. We were scared.”
According to Caddell, he and his friends were spending an afternoon on the lake in their boat, something they had done a hundred times before.
“We grew up on Lake Moultrie and we’ve been out on the lake like this so many times over the years growing up,” he said. “So boating safety was something our parents drilled into us. We are so thankful they did because when the wave hit the back of the boat and it capsized, we didn’t have any time to think.”
Cumbee called it a rogue wave, one that came out of nowhere to wash over the back of the boat.
“It just hit us and the next thing we know we’re sinking.”
Thinking fast, the three pulled out their cellphones and started calling anyone and everyone on their contact lists that might answer.
“We just kept dialing,” Caddell said, “Hoping somebody would pick up, anybody would pick up. Buddy’s call connected as we went into the water. Mine didn’t.”
Calvin Sr. said when he listened to the call on voice mail he heard what he called, “a swirling, rushing sound, like water.”
What Cumbee Sr. heard, according to Caddell, was the sound of Buddy’s cellphone sinking to the bottom of the lake.
Berkeley County Rescue Squad Chief Bill Salisbury told the members of the rescue squad assembled for their weekly meeting, “This is the way calls are supposed to turn out. We had a happy ending tonight when it so easily could have turned out tragically.”
The third boater, Jessica Jessup, didn’t say much during the meeting or afterward during interviews, saying she didn’t want to start crying again.
“It was the most frightening night of my life,” she said in a small voice. “I don’t remember much of anything near the end. I just remember holding on to the cooler and being so cold.”
What possibly saved the lives of the three was Cumbee and Caddell’s quick thinking just after their boat capsized.
“Caleb immediately swam under the boat and grabbed everything he could get his hands on that would float,” Calvin Sr. said. “He pulled out lifejackets and the cooler, anything they could hold onto.”
It was 1:30 a.m. before rescue squad members found the overturned boat and its three occupants clinging to the hull for dear life.
“I remember seeing the search lights and knowing we’d been found,” Jessup said. “That was about it.”
“We were out there in the middle of the lake,” Caddell added. “And it was so dark out there we couldn’t see each other at all and we were just a few feet apart.”
They knew to stay with the boat and not try to swim for shore.
“We were too far out in the water and we knew if one of us or all of us tried to swim for shore they would have three or four searches to conduct instead of just one search.”
Salisbury said Caddell, Cumbee and Jessup’s body core temperatures were at 73 degrees when they were found.
“It was cold out there and being in the water for that long isn’t good,” he said. “There were two of them in pretty bad shape. They wouldn’t have survived much longer in the water.”
Salisbury implored boaters to practice boating safety tips when heading out for a trip on Lake Moultrie.
“Always file a float plan,” he said. “That way somebody knows where you put in, how long you plan to be out on the water and when you are expected to return. Also, keep a charged cellphone handy so you can make that emergency call if trouble arises.”
The three spent the night in the hospital and were treated for exposure and hypothermia.
“We are so thankful that you cared enough about us not to give up,” Caddell told the assembled rescue squad members, his voice choking with emotion. “We are standing here today talking with you because you did not give up.”