KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. – Rescuers sent to help people trapped by Hurricane Isabel (search) became victims of the storm themselves, spending nearly five hours in 4 feet of turbulent water after waves rolled their truck upside down.
Three people had called 911 for help as the storm approached Thursday morning saying they were stuck in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (search) and water was rising into the cab of their sport utility vehicle.
The three people had left Rodanthe, on Hatteras Island (search), thinking they had time to drive the island highway to the more heavily populated Bodie Island, Sheriff Rodney Midgett said. He wouldn't identify them.
"I think those people made a poor decision," he said. "They thought they could get through the area but they couldn't."
After their call, deputies Melvin Walston and George Bowman and Coast Guard public affairs officer Tim Pike were sent out to rescue them.
However, the rescuers' 2-ton truck dropped into a low spot on the sand-covered road and broke something in its drive train, Midgett said.
While Bowman and Pike broke out lifejackets, a wave broadsided their truck and knocked it on its side, the sheriff said. A second wave turned it upside down as they tried to free Watson, who had been driving. Watson escaped before a third wave turned the heavy truck on its side again.
As the rushing water threatened to sweep them away, the three rescuers tied themselves to their truck with 40-foot lengths of rope, long enough to avoid being crushed if the truck rolled over again, Midgett said.
By late afternoon, the turbulent water finally ebbed enough to allow them to walk to Rodanthe, about a mile south.
Along the way, they came upon the three victims who had placed the 911 call. All six walked into Rodanthe, along with the crew of a second truck that had broken down in the area.