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911 tapes depict confusion on night of boating accident
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A caller is transferred to Hall County and reports they have come out on a boat to the scene of the accident between Shoal Creek and Lake Lanier Islands, and that search and rescue is needed. This call came in at 10:49 p.m.

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A caller is transferred from Forsyth County to Hall County. The caller provides more specifics on the location of the accident. He further advises that he has attempted CPR, and there is one child missing while a second is deceased. [Editor’s note: This clip has been edited to remove a private cellphone number.] This call came in at 10:55 p.m.

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A caller in the Lake Lanier Islands campground is transferred from Gwinnett County and advises Hall County that people are calling for help from the lake. The caller later advises that it seems there are a lot of people in the water. This call came in at 10:36 p.m.

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A caller, who has been fishing near the accident scene, is transferred from Gwinnett County to Hall County and reports a child is missing in the water and that CPR on another child aboard a boat has been unsuccessful. [Editor’s note: This clip has been edited to remove a private cellphone number.] This call came in at 10:36 p.m.

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A caller who is transferred from Gwinnett County advises Hall County that he can hear people yelling for help from his house at Shoal Creek Point across from Lake Lanier Islands. These calls came in at 10:41 p.m. and 10:43 p.m., respectively.

On the night of the tragic boating accident that killed 9-year-old Jake Prince on Lake Lanier and left his 13-year-old brother Griffin missing, it took several minutes before emergency dispatchers could determine where to send help.

Calls for help on the night of the wreck depict panic and confusion as emergency responders worked to find victims stranded on the lake in the dark after a fishing boat collided with a pontoon boat carrying 13 people.

According to recordings by the Hall County 911 Center, it took crews more than 30 minutes to locate the wreck and reach the scene. That came after two men fishing nearby responded and tried to help.

It’s a common challenge for emergency officials who work on Lake Lanier with relatively few but coordinated resources.

When the calls first came in, no official help was at the ready on the lake, said David Kimbrell, Hall County Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director.

“No one that I even know is even out there, not even law enforcement, after certain hours of the night,” Kimbrell said.

At least six calls came in to the Hall County dispatch line, some transfers from Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, as those involved in the wreck along with bystanders at nearby campgrounds, homes and boats sought help.

“We’re missing somebody! You’ve got to get here!” one woman, calling from the pontoon boat, screamed at a Hall County dispatcher in the initial call at 10:35 p.m.

In the background were more screams. The female caller, who told the dispatcher her name is “Crissy,” paused to tell someone “there’s nothing we could have done differently” and “it’s not your fault.”

Four minutes into the call, the dispatcher was still trying to determine where the boats were on the expansive lake, asking for the closest docks or if there were buoys nearby.

“We’re getting other calls on it,” the dispatcher told the woman. “They’re trying to figure out where you’re at, too.”

A minute later, the dispatcher said crews were on the way.

“We’ve got so many people trying to get to y’all,” the dispatcher later promised.

Another call came from the fishing boat driven by Paul J. Bennett at nearly the same time. A woman who identified herself as “Amy” to a dispatcher had a difficult time concentrating on the call, continuously screaming “Help, 911!” into the receiver.

“I don’t know what to do! I don’t know where I am!” she told the dispatcher.

The first help to arrive was a private fishing boat, piloted by Phil Johnson and friend David Bryant. The two had been fishing nearby when they heard the screams, Johnson told The Times Friday.

As they came to aid the boaters, someone from the pontoon asked if anyone knew CPR. Johnson did.

While he tried to perform CPR on 9-year-old Jake Prince, Bryant searched the water for Griffin with a Q-beam light, Johnson said.

“We tried to revive him,” Johnson said in an interview with The Times. “We just couldn’t.”

Bryant also called 911, telling dispatchers that one boy was missing and another wasn’t responding to resuscitative efforts.

“I don’t think it’s done no good,” Bryant tells the dispatcher of the CPR attempt.

Also in the call, Bryant can be heard trying to guide dispatchers to the boat ramps near the scene. Once a dispatcher said emergency crews would launch boats from Shoal Creek campground, he told them how to find the distressed boaters from there.

“We’re getting hysterical here,” he told the dispatcher.

Johnson, who guides fishing trips on the lake, said both he and Bryant know the area well, giving them the ability to guide dispatchers. Later, Johnson, called 911 to tell the dispatcher that emergency crews he could see on land needed to turn around.

He advised that the crews put their boats in at the East Bank boat ramp and told dispatchers he had his GPS marked with the crash site and the place Griffin Prince was lost.

The first responder aid to reach on the scene was a helicopter dispatched by the Georgia State Patrol. The craft appeared over the crash site some 30 minutes into an initial call from a passenger on the pontoon boat.

Hearing news of its arrival, the female Hall County dispatcher said “thank God.”

Department of Natural Resources Ranger Mark Stephens got a page notifying him of the accident at 10:48 p.m. Monday, according to spokeswoman Melissa Cummings; he arrived at 11:40 p.m.

Within 10 minutes, rescue boats arrived and the official search for Griffin Prince kicked off.

Kimbrell said it took Hall’s marine rescue unit about 15 minutes to arrive once it launched from Little Hall Park.

“It takes a little bit longer at night, because you have to be a little bit more cautious, looking for obstructions sticking out of the water,” he said.

On Friday, Johnson said he felt the response times were adequate, considering the resources and the circumstances.

Kimbrell, too, said rescue efforts were conducted “the best we could.”

“It’s a big lake, and trying to give descriptions of it can be confusing when they’ve got all those calls coming,” Johnson said. “I don’t envy them.”

Agencies that respond to emergencies on Lanier don’t keep boats on the lake all the time. Hall County’s marine unit is on the water during daylight hours on weekends in the summer, but waits for calls at a station on Sardis Road most other times, Kimbrell said.

Forsyth County keeps a pontoon boat in waiting at Port Royale Marina a few miles away from the rescuers who staff it, Capt. Jason Shivers said.

Other counties that touch the lake also have aquatic resources, but none has enough to keep help on the water at all times.

The DNR, the lake’s law enforcement agency, keeps the water manned during peak activity.

Capt. Johnny Johnson, who worked on Lanier for 24 years until March, said DNR rangers don’t work set shifts. Enforcement efforts, he said, are tied to boating activity.

“We stay on the lake until we look around and most of the people have gone home,” Johnson said. “We go to work when we need to and we get off when we need to.”

Bennett, who was driving the fishing boat, has been charged with boating under the influence in connection with the wreck. He is free on a $5,000 bond but DNR officials investigating the case say other charges are possible.

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