Opelika men stranded, rescued by U.S. Coastguard
By Rebekah Martin
Three of Opelika’s own are counting their blessings and holding their families a little closer after a routine scuba diving trip went awry.
Saturday’s dive trip was not the first for firefighters Bryan Densel, Michael Bass and former firefighter Jeff Thompson – but their excursion turned into a 12-hour ordeal that Densel called “a life-changing event.”
The trio visited a favorite fishing and diving spot nearly 13 miles off the coast of Pensacola, Fla. Saturday. With a storm brewing on the horizon, the men planned on being in the water for no longer than 10 minutes, but the current was much stronger than they had anticipated. After resurfacing, the men realized they had been carried more than 300 yards away from their boat. Despite an hour of intense swimming in effort to get back to their vessel, the current continued to put more distance between them and the boat.
“After that hour of swimming, I reached a level of fatigue that I didn’t even know existed,” Densel said. “When I looked up and realized the boat was just as far away as when we began – my survival instincts kicked in. I felt every second of that 12 hours.”
The men then realized they had no recourse other than to band together and begin praying for safety.
“Our faith is a big thing that is important to us – we knew that we needed to pray and hope that God would help us,” Bass said. “We prayed that He would get us back to our families because we knew we weren’t ready to go yet.”
Even though Bass said he felt bumps on his tank several times while stranded, the three were determined to not mention the word ‘shark.’
“For me, the first thing I thought about when we knew we were in trouble was my family,” Bass said. “My 2-year-old son and my wife – they’re what drove me and made me keep fighting so I could get home.” Bass said he put his focus on his family rather than dwelling on the dangerous situation and his positive thoughts helped him keep fighting.
The men weathered two severe thunderstorms with swells as big as 10 feet before finding safe harbor. Approximately 12 hours after beginning their dive, the men were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard at 12:45 a.m.
“When we saw that C-144 plane fly over us – I think I could search the English language to the end and, literally, I don’t have any words to explain that emotion,” Densel said. “The joy, and the excitement and the relief was just indescribable.”
Bass said he believes God was working that day in the treacherous waters of the gulf.
“In my opinion, I know a lot of people make it sound like it was all us – that we were the ones who did this, but I know I spent a lot of time out there praying to God and I feel like He kept us safe. He put us in a bubble and has a bigger plan for us. The glory truly belongs to God.