On the afternoon of Oct. 8, FWC Officers responded to two swimmers in distress near the area of Rodriguez Key, on the oceanside of Key Largo. Jim and Kim Harris of Hollywood, Florida, were quickly drifting away from their vessel. The swimmers’ 11-year-old grandson, Avani Perez, was left on the vessel alone. 

Keeping calm, Avani used a cell phone onboard to call 911. He remained on the line while the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, FWC and U.S. Coast Guard worked to determine their location. Avani was able to identify his general area to aid in the search, using GPS coordinates from the boat’s electronics. 

Officers William Thompson and Ethan Coger responded on a vessel from Whale Harbor and Lieutenant Paul Hein and officer Paige Pestka responded on a second vessel from the same location.

Once in the area of Rodriguez Key, Hein and Pestka spotted the vessel with the 11-year-old and rushed to his location. Pestka ensured the boy was safe and had him point to the direction of his grandparents. Hein spotted the grandparents in the distance and as he approached them a good Samaritan, reportedly a commercial fisherman, helped the swimmers on board. Hein and Pestka returned the swimmers to their grandson.

The following day, Oct. 9, the U.S. Coast Guard Station Islamorada presented Avani with a unit coin for his heroics.

Sheriff Rick Ramsay gave special praise to 911 operator Amanda Coleman, who stayed on the line with Avani for about an hour until the family was reunited at sea. 

“The sheriff’s office, FWC and U.S. Coast Guard all worked as a team and saved lives,” said FWC Capt. David Dipre. “The outcome was outstanding, because of the outstanding partnerships, excellent communication and strong desire to help others.”

The FWC’s Lt. Paul Hein and Officer Paige Pestka were the first to reach Avani Perez on the oceanside of Key Largo after his grandparents floated away attempting to unfoul the propeller. CONTRIBUTED

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