COCOA, Florida – It started with a frantic 911 call to the police department in Cocoa, Florida.
A woman’s voice tells the dispatcher “I’m in the river.”
“My boat crashed, and I have a baby still in the water. Please, God, send someone now.”
Tammy Bossard and her husband, Brian Bossard, were in trouble.
“Please, hurry,” she said.
The Bossards, along with their two daughters, 23-month-old Kennedy and 7-month-old Charlotte, were in their 25 foot boat on the Indian River around 10:45 p.m. on Friday, August 19.
They were coming home after meeting relatives for dinner at a restaurant near Cocoa Beach.
Tammy and the children were asleep in the back of the open boat.
About 150 yards south of the Hubert Humphrey Bridge, which connects the mainland to Merritt Island, power poles cross the waterway, each with a series of guide wires to help them stay upright in the riverbed.
Brian said he didn’t see the wire that was right in front of his boat until it was too late.
“There’s no lights, no reflectors on them,” he said. “Our radar just didn’t pick them up.”
He tried to turn away, but it was too late.
The boat ran up the wire and overturned in the water.
“I didn’t even have time to think about a life jacket, let alone get one on,” he said.
When he surfaced, he climbed onto the overturned vessel and helped pull up Tammy, who had Charlotte in her arms.
But, they couldn’t find Kennedy.
A large, gaping hole had been cut into the boat’s right side.
Brian found his wet phone still worked.
So, Tammy called 911 as he dived into the water looking for his missing daughter.
They could hear Kennedy crying but didn’t know where the sound was coming from.
They didn’t know it at the time, but help was on its way.
Date night interrupted
For Mike Dellatorre and his wife, Dora Dellatorre, it was date night at a local restaurant.
Mike is the Cocoa Police Department’s boat operator.
Dora is a trauma emergency room nurse.
Just before 11 p.m., he got a call from the station about the accident.
He was off duty that night but immediately responded.
As he was getting ready to leave, his wife told him she would meet him back at home.
“No,” Mike said. “You have a skill set we may need. I hope we don’t, but we may need your skill set, so you’re coming with me.”
First in the water
Cpl. Matthew Rush was the first police officer to arrive at the river.
The officer, who has been with the department for a year, ran to a nearby fishing pier.
There, he saw the overturned boat drifting toward the bridge.
A good Samaritan who was on the same pier had already jumped in the water and was swimming toward the boat.
Rush knew he had to act quickly, so he stripped off his gear, wearing just his patrol pants and a black T-shirt and dived into the water.
He reached the boat after swimming 100 yards.
“The first thing that goes through your mind is that it’s not going to be good,” he said.
He found Tammy on the overturned boat with Charlotte and Brian in the water, still searching for Kennedy.
Within minutes, a Brevard County sheriff’s helicopter arrived and turned on its floodlights, illuminating the area around the boat.
Another local boater also arrived to help.
Rush told them to rescue the Bossard family.
A child’s cry
It was at this point Mike came onto the scene in the police zodiac.
Also on board were Dora and Cpl. Alan Worthy.
The sheriff’s helicopter flying overhead turned on its FLIR system.
FLIR is an acronym for forward looking infrared radiometer.
It’s used to pick up the different heat signatures of objects in relationship to their surroundings.
Humans are usually easy to see because of their warm body temperature.
But, while they could see debris from the boat in the water, they still couldn’t locate Kennedy.
The damaged boat continued drifting north, under the bridge.
Mike came to the conclusion Kennedy was still under the boat.
He said he prepared himself for the worst.
But, then, they heard a child crying.
“I immediately tell the helicopter to lift off,” Mike said.
He told everyone to be quiet and turned off all the radios as his boat drifted next to the Bossards’.
Worthy got on his knees and put his ear to the hull of the boat.
He stood up and said he heard her crying.
“She’s under the boat,” he said.
The 45-minute miracle
Worthy jumped into the water.
Rush, who was on the other side in the civilian boat, dived in again, both taking turns sweeping back and forth with their hands on the now upside-down deck.
They could see nothing in the dark, murky water.
And, they couldn’t find Kennedy.
Again, Worthy put his ear to the boat.
Again, he heard crying.
“So, I told Officer Rush that she is right here,” as he pointed to the bow of the boat.
Rush dived down yet again.
But, this time, he felt a child’s leg.
He pulled it down hard and away from the boat.
Worthy said the next thing he saw was Kennedy exploding out of the water from the pressure of her life jacket.
Somehow, Kennedy had been pushed into an air pocket when the boat overturned.
For more than 45 minutes, the life vest she was wearing held her head up in the only place where she could have survived.
Worthy said she seemed like she was in pretty good condition.
“She was alert.” he said. “She was conscience. She was looking around.”
“Just another day in Cocoa PD”
Dora pulled the toddler onto the deck of the police boat and gave her a quick once over.
She seemed to be unhurt except for a small cut near her eye, but Dora bundled her up in her arms to keep Kennedy warm.
After 45 minutes in the water, she was concerned Kennedy might be suffering from hypothermia.
They raced Kennedy back to port, the awaiting EMTs and her anxious parents.
As the three officers recount what happened that night, they talk about having all the right people in the right place at the right time.
When asked if they feel like heroes, Mike said “Nah, just another day in Cocoa PD.”
“We’re here to help” Worthy said. “And, that’s what we want to do. You call us, and we’re going to help you.”
But, Brian and Tammy said the three police officers’ heroic actions that night meant the world, literally, to them.
“These girls are our world,” Brian said. “And, you know, without one of them, we just didn’t know what we would do.”
The Bossards said they don’t know how the event will affect Kennedy.
But, so far, they said, she seems to be coping well with it all.
They also said, from now on, when they hug their daughters, they will hold them both just a little closer and a little tighter.