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‘It was like the Queen Mary was saving us,’ says rescued boater

Coast Guard honors heroic Ferndale rescuers

Tom R. Broselle and his sons Tom M. Broselle and Jacob Broselle, are awarded medals by the Coast Guard, Tuesday morning, July 5, 2016, in Bellingham, for their rescue of five people after their boat capsized off Cherry Point north of Bellingham,
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Tom R. Broselle and his sons Tom M. Broselle and Jacob Broselle, are awarded medals by the Coast Guard, Tuesday morning, July 5, 2016, in Bellingham, for their rescue of five people after their boat capsized off Cherry Point north of Bellingham,

A Ferndale man and his teenage sons received one of the U.S. Coast Guard’s highest honors Tuesday, July 5, for their rescue nearly a year ago of five members of a Ferndale family whose boat had capsized in rough waters off Cherry Point.

Tom Broselle, 48, was awarded the Silver Life Saving Medal and his sons, Jake, 14, and Tom, 12, were awarded the Meritorious Public Service Award for their daring rescue of five people – including a 6-year-old girl who was trapped under the boat.

“I don’t know that I was really thinking. Instinct took over,” said the older Tom Broselle.

Probably one of the most noble things you can do is save someone’s life.

Coast Guard Capt. Joe Raymond

He and his boys were crabbing about a quarter-mile offshore on a blustery Aug. 28, 2015, when they saw an overturned boat with four people clinging to it. As they drew alongside, Broselle tore off his sweatshirt and dived headlong into 50-degree water to free Ashley Pietig, who was unconscious and tangled in netting under the 14-foot motorboat. He brought the girl to the surface and she began breathing spontaneously, witnesses said.

While Tom Broselle hauled Ashley to safety, his sons maneuvered their 16-foot motorboat into position and helped the four other survivors get aboard.

“Probably one of the most noble things you can do is save someone’s life,” said Coast Guard Capt. Joe Raymond in a ceremony Tuesday at the Coast Guard station on Bellwether Way in Bellingham. “You’ve given them a gift. To save someone’s life, it’s truly an amazing thing.”

Some 2,000 Silver Life Saving Medals have been awarded since the honor was established by Congress in 1874, Raymond said.

Also rescued was Mike Peterson and son Aiden Peterson, 14; and daughter Kristen Pietig and another daughter, then 9. The Pietigs were traveling and didn’t attend Tuesday’s ceremony. Mike Peterson said daughter Kristen Pietig remains emotionally traumatized by the incident, although Ashley has recovered.

When I saw Tom coming in the boat, it was like the Queen Mary was saving us.

Mike Peterson

“She doesn’t want to keep reliving this thing. She almost lost her daughter,” Mike Peterson said Tuesday. Coincidentally, Aiden Peterson and the younger Tom Broselle play ball together on the Whatcom American All Stars, and just days ago their baseball team won a state title.

After Tuesday’s ceremony, Mike Peterson described that August day. He was crabbing with his family and was just about to return to shore because conditions on the bay were worsening. Waves began washing across the bow and the boat nosed into a wave trough and flipped, dumping everyone into the water. They all had life jackets, but two family members weren’t wearing them, he said.

They clung to the boat for about 15 minutes and feared Ashley was dead. The wind was rising and “big, huge rollers” of 6 to 8 feet bobbed them up and down, Peterson said. Then, he caught sight of Broselle’s boat.

“When I saw Tom coming in the boat, it was like the Queen Mary was saving us,” he said. “We’re eternally grateful to Tom and the family,” Mike Peterson said.

Tom Broselle, however, still shrugs off the praise.

“It didn’t seem like a big deal,” he said.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @bhamMitty

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