Crab Island Danger: Hidden currents almost ruin family vacation

Savannah Vasquez
Avery Hatchett of S.E.A. Chase Watersports, has lived in Destin for 15 years and said he knows the tides and currents and never hesitates to help those in need.

Alan Franklin of Martin, Tenn., was enjoying his first trip to Destin earlier this  month. He had brought his wife, Xuan, two sons, Lucas, 9,  and Kasey, 2, and his sister and niece, Tina and Madison. The group had rented a pontoon to explore the famous water playground of Crab Island, however, Franklin said it wasn’t long after they headed out to the popular sandbar that everything took a turn for the worse.

“We had decided to rent a pontoon boat on Saturday, April 4th, for the day and explore the Choctawhatchee Bay,” said Franklin. “Around 3:30 p.m. we headed over to Crab Island. It wasn’t that busy, but there was probably somewhere between 20 to 25 boats lined up along the edge nearest the bridge.”

Franklin said that because of bad weather earlier in the day, the group’s plans had been postponed, but the weather cleared up enough for an afternoon adventure, and the family was rearing for a good time.

“Tina, Madison, and Lucas all hopped onto the island to play while my wife and I stayed aboard and tried to put Kasey to sleep. None of them had life preservers on due to the shallowness of the water on Crab Island.”

This last aspect, Franklin said he never would have allowed to happen if he had known just how dangerous the undercurrents at Crab Island can be.

“About 15 minutes after landing I heard my sister call my name,” said Fraklin. “I went to the back of the boat and saw her in the water with Lucas. The instant she saw me she said, ‘I just can’t do it. I can’t swim anymore.’”

  Thinking that his sister was just tired out from carrying Lucas, Franklin said at first he wasn’t alarmed.

“I noticed that she was past Crab Island into the water, but at this point I didn’t see the real danger,” he said. “I knew the current on the island was a little swift, but little did I know how strong it was beyond the island.”

Franklin said he first tried to find a floatation device with a tow line, but after finding the on-board floatation seat did not have a rope attached he decided to take matters into his own hands.

“I ran to the back of the boat, putting my life jacket on along the way, and then jumped in and swam out to Tina and Lucas,” he said. “I got him and told him to hold on, and I would swim us back to the boat…but after two attempts to swim back, I was no closer to the boat.”

As he struggled, Franklin said he realized even he could not make the swim back to the boat, and seeing his family in danger he knew it was time to call for help.

“I knew I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I knew our only chance was to hail someone for assistance. I looked toward the boats and shouted three times for help. On the third shout I saw someone aboard the nearest boat look over. He quickly shouted that he was coming and to hang on.”

That person was Avery Hatchett, a deck hand and hired captain for S.E.A. Chase Watersports.

“I was captaining a crew for S.E.A. Chase about 15 yards away I heard a man yell for help,” said Hatchett. “I saw a lady going up and down and a man holding his son up out of the water and a young girl being sucked towards the Destin Bridge; So I pulled my anchor up, pulled the lady in with my safety cushion, drug her on the back of the boat, and then pulled up to Alan. I pulled him and his son up, then I grabbed the young girl.”

“Throughout this entire process he was very calm and utterly professional,” said Franklin. “He explained that during times of low or high tide, the water from the current is redirected around the island, and is far more powerful.”

Franklin told The Log that the main reason for sharing his harrowing story is to bring awareness to the severity of the currents and encourage rental companies to give more detailed safety briefings.

“I think people need to know about that particular danger because it wasn’t included in any of the material I got, and it really is a huge concern,” said Franklin. “It’s not something you know until it’s too late. It is very deceptive, you don’t realize that there is any current. It may open peoples eyes, make a change somewhere with the rental companies to say, ‘Hey if you go out there be aware of this, because that current can sure pull you away.’”

Hatchett said that S.E.A. Chase Watersports does notify all of their customers of the dangers of the currents, and suggests calm water spots for families with small children. He told The Log that he does not consider himself a hero, but instead feels it is just his responsibility to help when he sees someone in need.

“You just always got to be on your toes around the jetties if you are a local,” Hatchett said. “The currents always switch. This was switching tides from high tide to low tide; the most dangerous switch. After I pulled them in, they all looked so relieved, in complete shock, and so thankful. I’d do it again any day.”

As for Franklin he said he will come back a visit Destin, but hopes to see more knowledge of the currents given to visitors in the future. He said he will be forever grateful to Hatchett and wanted his heroism shared.

“I can’t express in words my gratitude toward Mr. Hatchett and S.E.A. Chase Watersports for being there when all seemed lost,” he said. “He went above and beyond, and his response was completely professional.”