Two men repairing a Pawleys Island dock fell into the Waccamaw River on Monday afternoon, and while one was heroically pulled from the river, rescue crews are continuing to search for the other.
Bill Martin, Pawleys Island resident, was working under his home in Hagley Estates, which borders the Waccamaw, to install a gasline for a grill when he heard what sounded like screaming coming from the water about 3 p.m. Monday.
The screaming grew louder as he made his way up from underneath his home, and he began to run toward the dark water, hitting his head on a rafter and falling to the ground, but picking himself up along the way, he said.
“As I got closer I could see a man struggling and screaming for help,” Martin said. “I ran as hard as I could screaming back to him, I’m going to get you. Stay up.”
Martin ran out onto his dock, which was close to the dock where the men had been working, and pulled the drowning man up as he was going by.
Martin said he was prepared to jump in if he had to, but felt fortunate he didn’t have to go into the chilly water, which was about 57 degrees on Monday afternoon.
Martin called 911 and Midway Fire Rescue crews responded and the man was taken to Waccamaw Medical Center where he was treated and released.
Bill Martin said he also called the man’s wife for him to let her know about the incident. The man who was rescued could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The man told Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office deputies that he and a 53-year-old from North Charleston were using a floating dock to work on a stationary dock. The floating dock wasn’t secured to the stationary one, and the strong current caused the floating dock to drift away, according to a police report.
Both men tried to hold on to the stationary dock, but couldn’t and fell in the water, authorities said.
The man rescued said he looked back before he was pulled from the water and saw the victim waving and shouting his name before the victim went under and never resurfaced, according to the report.
Martin’s wife Pam said she was working in her home office when her husband rescued the man, and said she didn’t know any of it was happening until rescue crews came charging through her home to get to the water.
“I feel just terrible for the two men. You never want to see anything like that happen. It’s a tragic, tragic event, and I’m so very grateful that the one man could be saved and that his family will have him home on Thanksgiving, and I’m so devastated for the other family, and my heart goes out to them,” Pam Martin said.
Pam Martin and her father, Butch Burke, are calling Bill Martin’s actions heroic after he ran out to rescue the man from the deep, debris-filled river.
“I was proud of him before this,” Burke said. “He’s my hero.”
Bill Martin chalked his actions up to good timing, more so than heroics.
“It was a timing thing. It was fortunate that I was where I was and was able to hear his calls. Normally, I’m not back there, and there was no one else in the area…”
The man would have probably gone under in a matter of seconds if he hadn’t gotten to him when he did, Bill Martin said.
While he felt very lucky to have been able to save one man, he said it was unfortunate he wasn’t able to help the other, who rescue crews continued to look for all day Tuesday.
Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Georgetown County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol, Midway Fire Rescue Water Rescue Division, U.S. Coast Guard Georgetown Station scoured the murky and fast-moving river Monday afternoon until around nightfall.
The search grew with more boats and S.C. Department of Natural Resources divers helping Tuesday, said Doug Eggiman, fire chief with Midway Fire Rescue.
“We want to find the individual as quickly as possible, and we’ll work hard today to do that,” Eggiman said Tuesday morning around 8:30 when the search resumed.
Authorities have not released the name of the missing man. The search was called off Tuesday at dusk and will resume Wednesday morning, according to Carrie Cuthbertson, public information officer with the Georgetown County Sheriff's Office.