“It almost looked like a crew boat that had broken up into four pieces. I saw yellow life jackets,” Gabbert said at a press conference on Friday. “The youngest kid had just come up, saying he was pinned in there.”
Gabbert called 911 to get help and said he tried to remain calm in front of the family, who were covered in oil, that had been taking the tour.
“It was not a fun sight … [but] it all turned positive,” Gabbert said.
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“They were healthy, scared, nervous. It was a pretty crappy situation that turned good. I was in the right place, the right time, I guess. The credit really goes out there to TPD and HCSO.”
The family had been returning to an airport after a one-hour tour when the helicopter lost power and the pilot was forced to make a water landing.
Hunter Hupp, 28, and his 59-year-old mother ended up on the back of Gabbert’s watercraft, while his 63-year-old father was on the back of a second jetski that took them safely to shore.
The Tampa Bay Police Department Marine Unit retrieved the 33-year-old pilot from the water.
“I count my lucky stars this morning,” Mr Hupp told FOX 13. “We all woke up. Today is the best day ever.”
Investigators said the helicopter went down about 300 feet from shore and the NTSB and FAA are probing the cause of the crash.