BRIDGE UNDER TROUBLED WATERS - Boaters crash into submerged structure

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Errol Rottman Jr.
  • Chief of standardization and evaluation with the 84th Flying Training Squadron at Laughlin AFB.
So there I was, kitchen remodel complete. ... Honey do? Done!

That definitely earned me enough points for a day on the lake.

Lt. Col Bob Gates, one of the guys who works with me at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, has a Mastercraft ski boat modified to fish off the front. He calls it his Red Neck fishing boat.

He offered to show me some good fishing spots; so Saturday morning at 6:45, we were on the water at nearby Lake Amistad.

Bob and I, as well as my 13-year-old son, Ryan, were on the lake with the sun just barely up. It was 80 degrees, with just a slight breeze, and the fish were slapping the surface.

Driving along at 40 mph, we spotted some rams and deer on the shore that added to the ambiance of the beautiful morning.

It was the first time I'd been fishing in months, and I thought to myself, "If I catch just one, I'll be in heaven."

With Bob driving the boat and looking forward, Ryan and I sat on a bench seat next to the driver facing the rear of the boat.
Bob pointed to some big post off the starboard side, and as we turned to look, said, "You gotta watch out for that; lots of guys hit that post."

One potato ...

My eyes scanned the area he pointed to.

Two potato ...

I got a visual on the post.

Three potato ...


We hit something and went from 40 mph to zero in 1.8 seconds.

The boat "launched" forward, and I was thrown up against the backrest and maybe the windshield. I looked at the back of the boat and down into the water and saw the "structure" we just slammed into, which turned out to be bridge piling from a previous road. The boat landed and coasted to a stop in roughly 15 feet of water.

I didn't see Ryan.

Thankfully, that was only because of my tunnel vision during the impact. Ryan was actually still right next to me and only hit the back of his head on the windshield.

My tackle box, which weighs between 25 and 30 pounds, sat right behind the driver.

I didn't know it at the time, but Bob hit his face on the steering wheel or windshield. I don't know if my tackle box helped push his face forward, but, regardless, it's a huge shift of mass.
Both of us jumped up and entered emergency mode. Bob killed the engine as if by a reaction to save the motor. I pointed out that it was running just fine. Then he started it again only to find out the tranny was gone. He jumped up and quickly tried to get the trolling motor working, but it wasn't.

We pulled open the cubby hole to check the batteries, and the positive cable was cut. Bob got positive connection by holding the open wires up to the positive end of the battery, and the trolling motor started to work. He handed me the task of maintaining contact with the positive wire, and he jumped back up front. He got the trolling motor going in the direction of a nearby boat ramp area.

The ramp was probably only a quarter of a mile away.

Water started coming in through the floor.

Taking on more and more water, Bob jumped down to start the boost pump, but it didn't work.

As the water continued to rise, I started to feel uncomfortable about holding the bare ended wire to the positive terminal. I stood in ankle-deep water, and every time the cable got a little loose it sparked upon reconnect.

When the water was about an inch from the top of the battery, I brought up the idea that maybe we needed to raise the batteries out of the water more. As I pulled up one of the batteries, it inadvertently tugged on a line and the boost pump started working.

I ordered Ryan to start bailing water as the boat continued to flood. We were taking on about an inch of water every two minutes. With Ryan bailing water and the boost pump now working, we were keeping the water level constant. We were able to keep the status quo until we beached the boat on a rocky shore close to a closed ramp.

We got the trailer and loaded the boat. Four hours later, we were driving to Bob's house and could see the 4-foot section of missing boat from the bow. All the hardware underneath was gone as well. I'd estimate the vessel suffered close to $9,000 in damages.

Looking back, the lake was 28-feet low, so we were probably going too fast for conditions. Before getting on the lake, you should always check water levels and slow down in known shallow areas. Of course, it didn't help that the hazards were not marked. Park rangers said they were planning to mark the obstacle we hit. They marked it with three buoys later that day.

So, long story short, I haven't quite figured out where to fish this lake yet, but I now know where there's an underwater bridge that might be a good place to start.