Alexis Sutliff and her boyfriend Shannon Phagan knew they had to abandon ship as their jonboat started to take on water Jan. 20 at Lula Park.
A shift in the weight as they let up on the gas would eventually cause the boat to capsize.
“It caused it to basically nosedive, I guess, and fill with water. We looked at each other and knew that we had to go and jumped off in the water,” Sutliff said of the boat with dog Buddy also onboard.
Phagan was able to swim to the bank, though Buddy continued to push Sutliff underwater.
Sutliff eventually was able to get clear and backstroke until her shoulders hit the grass.
“I was brokenhearted, because I had to leave him. I was responsible for him being there and I had to push him away to save myself because he kept climbing on top of me,” Sutliff said.
Equipped with their rapid deployment watercraft, first responders from Hall County Fire Services, Sgt. Nick Thomas and firefighter/EMT Patrick Englishby, paddled out roughly 250 yards out in the water to the dog, which was barely keeping afloat.
Thomas put his sweatshirt over Buddy to keep the dog warm as they returned to the shore.
Sutliff, Phagan and Buddy met with the firefighters Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Station 6 on Lula Road to express their gratitude. Firefighters from Stations 6 and 7 worked the call.
“It was pretty cool to get to see them. You usually don’t get to see people after you help them out,” Englishby said.
The equipment used on the call is fairly new, as Thomas said the truck was put in service 90 days ago. The truck came with equipment like the rapid deployment watercraft, which can inflate in less than a minute.
“We just got done with some training on that specific raft probably a week and a half before,” Thomas said.
Phagan and Sutliff were taken to Northeast Georgia Medical Center for treatment and later learned of Buddy’s rescue.
“When I realized that two days later after I saw the article and the picture that he had taken his coat off to cover him, I just had to shake his hand and say thank you,” Sutliff said.
Sutliff said Buddy won’t be making any more boating trips unless he’s got a lifejacket.