Dad of rescued boaters: 'Imagine your worst nightmare and multiply it by 10'

MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (WCIV) - Steve Cumbee stood outside on Tuesday chatting with his son and nephew. It's a precious moment the three no longer take for granted after a near-death experience on Lake Moultrie.

"Imagine your absolute worst nightmare and multiply it by 10," said Steve Cumbee. "There's nothing that can prepare a parent for the potential loss of a child."

Cumbee's son Calvin, his nephew Kaleb Caddell, and their friend Jessica Jessup went on a boat ride Sunday afternoon. Around 5:35 p.m., Calvin Cumbee says the boat took an unexpected turn.

"I was driving and I felt water at my feet," said Calvin Cumbee. "I looked to Kaleb and the young lady that was in the boat with us and I said, 'We're taking in water,' and by time I could grab the life jackets it was upside down."

Steve Cumbee said he called his son and couldn't get an answer.

"He always answers his cellphone," said Steve Cumbee. "Knowing that he had to be a work relatively early the next morning, about 7:30 a.m., I started getting worried."

That's when Steve Cumbee says his wife called 911.

"My son and my nephew went out fishing early this afternoon and they haven't gotten back," said Mary Cumbee. "We can't get in touch with either one of them."

Berkeley County officials spent the next three hours trying to locate Calvin Cumbee's truck for a point of reference.

"We checked all of the boat landings, trying to find his vehicle and couldn't find it. Finally after some exhaustive search, we found his vehicle at the Russellville boat landing," said Steve Cumbee. "I, myself, had about 10 people looking at boat landings all over the place."

The Berkeley County Rescue Squad along with the Department of Natural Resources dispatched boats into Lake Moultrie.

"When they first put the rescue boats in we could see them from a distance and we screamed to the top of our lungs," said Kaleb Caddell. "But apparently, they just couldn't hear us. It got to a point, our throat was killing us, our head was killing us."

Somehow, Calvin Cumbee and Jessica Jessup were able to get their hands on life jackets. Caddell had to stay afloat by hovering over a cooler.

"My first reaction was rip the cooler top off, throw everything out and tilt it upside down," said Caddell. "Hopefully it will keep me above water. And, it did!"

For hours, the three held onto the boat and cooler while trying to keep each other close for warmth.

"We tried to kick and paddle over and over and over," said Caddell.

After nine long hours, the rescue squad finally found Cumbee, Caddell and Jessup. They were suffering from hypothermia and barely able to speak.

"When that last phone call came in, I didn't want to answer not knowing what he would have to say. But when the officer answered the phone, he said 'Mister Cumbee, we found them. Everybody's alert and everybody's alright,'" said Steve Cumbee.

Calvin Cumbee says he was nearing unconsciousness when rescuers found them. He and the others were taken to the hospital by ambulance.

"Your first response is to slap them," said Steve Cumbee as he chuckled. "You just want to put your arm around him and say, 'It's alright. No matter what happened. Now, everything is okay.'"

Steve Cumbee says the work of the Berkeley County Rescue Squad was nothing short of a miracle.

"If there only be two truths in life, I know that they are these two: that prayer works and that my God is still in charge," he said.

The Berkeley County Rescue Squad is funded solely by grants and donations. If you would like to donate, you can send a check addressed to the Berkeley County Rescue Squad to: 202 Factory Street Moncks Corner, SC 29461. Donations are tax deductible.