Five people were on a small boat when it flipped more than 500 yards from the Cherry Point shore on Friday, Aug. 28.
Four of them — Kristen Pietig, her brother, 12, daughter, 9, and father — clung to the side of the 13-foot dingy for life. Kristen’s second daughter, Ashley, 6, was stuck underneath the boat, tangled in rope.
Nobody could reach Ashley. Kristen Pietig tried to flip the boat over — unsuccessfully. One of the kids saw Ashley’s hand but couldn’t grab it.
Minutes later, another boat arrived. It wasn’t the Coast Guard or a rescue boat; it was a father and his two sons on their 21-foot boat.
The father dove in the cold water and untangled Ashley. His sons helped the other kids out.
Pietig’s father Michael Peterson, 73, was the last person in the water. He couldn’t hang on any longer and was about to let go when somebody lifted him up and placed him in the boat.
Safely out of the water, Peterson told his rescuer, “You are a hero. You just saved my whole family.”
He was talking to Tom Broselle, a clinical manager at Cornerstone Prosthetics & Orthotics in Bellingham.
Families come together
The two families knew each other before the boat capsized. Pietig’s son played baseball and football with one of Broselle’s sons. All the kids are in the Ferndale School District.
Broselle was out checking a crab pot that day with his two sons — Thomas, 12, and Jake, 14. The spot is popular for crabbing.
Michael Peterson said they were out checking on a crab pot, too. They usually go out on a bigger boat, but this time they used Kristen’s smaller boat that she just got a couple weeks before.
Ashley and her sister Courtney, 9, had life jackets on. The other three were either wearing their life jackets or had one available to them, Peterson said.
Peterson admits they probably went out a little too far from shore. They didn’t realize how rough the water was getting, until all of the sudden they realized the boat was filling up. They tried bailing out water, but once it rose above the motor there wasn’t anything they could do. The boat flipped.
“Before we knew it, water was coming right over the back of that motor,” Peterson said. “We were swamped. We were under the water in about two seconds.”
Broselle was a couple hundred yards away, and all he and his sons could see were limbs flailing at the surface. He thought people might have been scuba diving, until he saw that their boat was upside down.
It took Tom and his sons a few minutes to get there, but once they did, the family was yelling that their little girl was underneath the boat.
“We were worried she was drowning underneath there,” Peterson said.
Ashley was able to gulp some air whenever a wave rolled through, Broselle said. When he reached her, there was a rope tied around her chest, arm and foot.
Once they all were safely on Broselle’s 21-foot boat, they went to shore, where paramedics were waiting. Peterson was taken to the hospital and treated for aspiration pneumonia. The others had no significant injuries.
Broselle said the outcome could have been much worse if they weren’t there to help.
“We were the only boat around,” Broselle said. “I would imagine the little girl wouldn’t have made it (if we didn’t help).”
A ‘very humble’ hero
The U.S. Coast Guard had been called to rescue the family, but by the time they arrived the family was already on shore.
They found the boat that flipped and eventually returned it to Pietig.
The Coast Guard reported minutes after they were called that the family swam to shore. They were not immediately aware that Broselle had been there to save the family.
When the Petersons found that out, they thought the entire story needed to be told, even if Broselle wasn’t too excited about the idea.
“He’s pretty shy, and he’s very humble,” Peterson said. “(Tom) is just a wonderful guy.”
Peterson said he is “eternally grateful to Tom and his sons” for what they did.
Darlene Peterson, Michael’s wife, said she can’t thank Broselle enough for making sure her family was safe.
“Tom, in our family’s mind, is a hero,” she said. “Without him coming, I just don’t think it would have been a very good ending.”
Reach Wilson Criscione at 360-756-2803 or firstname.lastname@example.org.