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Larry Friend

Larry Friend is a supporter of the Coast Guard Foundation and has provided for the Foundation through a legacy gift as a member of the Munro Society. Larry's rescue story was featured in the July 30, 1989 edition of the Miami Herald. Below is an excerpt from reporter Patrick May's story on Mr. Friend's rescue.

He had his scuba gear, his underwater camera, and thousands of miles of open ocean. But as Larry Friend discovered to his horror, there was something he didn't have...a boat.

In the Atlantic, 90 feet over a dive spot called "Mount Olympus," Thirty miles north of West End, Grand Bahamas Island, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 10, Larry Friend, a Broward Realtor, began his dive.

First Hour

Larry: I go into the water. I hold onto the line and wait for Harry, my buddy on the dive. I have my camera in one hand. It's crazy to bring the camera. With the current this rough, you need two hands. Harry doesn't see me; I'm behind him, trying to go down, but without any anchor line, so we're forcing ourselves down, but getting pushed back up. The current has to be two or four knots. It feels like we're being dragged through the water behind a motorboat. I have a cold. I can't clear my right ear. Thirty feet down, I know I can't take it anymore. It's like someone is dredging my ear with a scalpel. I've lost sight of Harry. I have to abort the dive.

For more information about making a planned gift to the Coast Guard Foundation, contact Brad Sisley.

larry_friend_with_rescuers

Larry Friend and two of his Coast Guard rescuers, years after he was saved. 

I come back up and I'm 50 feet behind the float of the trailing line, way past where I should have been. I try to kick back, back, but every time I kick, I go 10 yards the other way. I blow my whistle. I assume there are lookouts on deck. I blow like hell. I assume I got their attention. I think, I'm fine, no danger. They'll pick me up when the others are done with the dive. I blow up my vest, fold my hands.

Not anxious at all. I've been diving 13 years and this sort of thing has happened to me and every other experienced diver. Now I've floated due north probably a mile. The boat's very small now, like a little toy boat. Then I see it moving around, picking up the other divers. He starts heading right for me. All of a sudden, he turns 180 degrees. I watch the boat get smaller. It shrinks into a pinprick on the horizon. Then it disappears. Just like that. I feel the sun beating on my bald head. I realize it's starting to burn me. There's nowhere to hide.

Second Hour

I'm yelling and screaming. I figure any minute they're gonna realize I'm not on board because my tank and gear's not there and any moron knows I'm not there, and Harry or someone will notice I'm missing. They must have taken a head count. Oh S---, I say. Oh s--_.

They're leaving me. I feel anger, not panic. What are they doing? I'm angry, but I also feel that my anger is kind of acted out, as if I were in a dream, or a made-for-TV movie. No land in sight. Thousands and thousands of square miles of nothing. Just plain water and open sky.

And Larry Friend.

I feel a strange, very precise calm. I start to function. I start to say, what should I do? What's next? It's drilled into me, as an experienced diver, as a man who has done a lot of things in his 59 years. Jesus, I'm going to turn 60 in six weeks. And right then I flirt with the idea: Maybe I won't.

Several miles to the south, the 100-foot dive boat is preparing to anchor at the next dive spot. There has been a foul-up in the head counting. A snafu in the buddy system. The captain, crew and dive party have left the dive site without looking back. One of the 17 divers on board, Boca Raton ophthalmologist Dr. Don Konicoff notices something amiss.

Konicoff: I was in the lounge, when I saw an ad in Skin Diver magazine for a housing to an underwater camcorder I was thinking of buying. I had been talking to Larry about it earlier and wanted to show him the ad. I went to the rear deck, but Larry wasn't there. I asked people, Where's Larry?

Larry: I'm flashing the strobe attachment on my camera to try to get their attention. Suddenly it isn't looking like such a bad idea to have taken the camera. Then the strobe slips off. I lunge for it and grip it tightly in the water. I hold onto it for dear life. I put the strobe back in and turn the nut so hard, Superman couldn't have taken it off. I can feel every muscle in my body working. Don't panic, I tell myself over and over. If you panic, you're dead. This strobe and the mirror inside it are going to save you. Don't throw anything away. The calculations run through my mind. I feel like a human computer. Observing, then entering data. Everything's working. I feel like I'm watching myself. There is no panic. I watch myself not panic and I find that interesting. I realize I'm enjoying-myself. It's funny. I keep sticking my head down to watch the fish. They're beautiful, yellowtail and mackerel and tuna cutting through the depths, shining in the light. It's just me and them, alone in the ocean, drifting in the current. I am in real danger. I am elated.

Third Hour

A blue-and-white speck leaps at me from the southern horizon. It's the dive boat coming back toward me. You know that expression, my heart soars? Well it does. This feeling just swells up in my chest like it's going to lift me right out of the water with it. Then the boat cuts over at a right angle and stops. I keep floating farther away. Then I lose sight of it. OK. I say it to myself. It's time to begin getting ready. Looks like I am going to die. I still have my weight belt on. I've owned it 13 years; it's a friend of mine. I know it, I helped build it. This is my buddy. But now it's starting to dig into my sides and I say, Well, it's gotta go. I have to get real serious.

I take the belt off and hold it up and drop it and watch it sink. It gets smaller and smaller and it's like I'm watching my hope shrink. While I was still wearing that belt I was saying, I'm going to dive again, but as the belt slips into the depths, so does any illusion of control. Still, that calculator in my head keeps ticking. I take a sighting on the belt on the bottom with my compass. I see I'm not going due north any more. Now I'm going northeast. I know the skipper doesn't know that. Now I'm going 40 degrees away from where he thought I was going. I'm finished. It's over.

I think about all the times that I've wondered, as I've gotten older, How am I gonna go? You've done this and that and you hope the end will be easy, and then I say, Son of a gun. It hits me: This is how I'm gonna go. Here, in the ocean, in the next few hours. But how? Will it be hypothermia? Will I just feel faint, and then black out, and) never come to? Like going to sleep? A sleep with no dreams. Blackness. The absence of blackness. Or will it be exposure? Maybe I'll begin to hallucinate. Or maybe, I'll get eaten. My stomach tightens. I don't want t to get eaten. But how long could that last? One ripping slash, a searing pain. Then unconsciousness.

I see myself again from the outside: I am making my peace with being torn to shreds and consumed. Now I take off my tank - the computer in me is doing all these things. The tank's a fine flotation device when you empty it down to 200 pounds. So I do, and put it under my knees for better floatation. It also makes a fine defensive weapon, because you can bop a shark right on the snout with it and he'll back off. So now I'm accepting the inevitable, without crying or panicking, and at the same time I'm doing whatever I can. It makes me feel. . . clean.

I've had a good life. I was a poor guy from the slums of Brooklyn, and now I'm doing OK, comfortable. I've been lucky. As I'm thinking this, I keep looking down. It's all more beautiful than ever before. Everything is super sharp, super colorful. The beauty of the fish, the sun, the sky - it all lashes out at me, as if some filter has been removed. I know the beauty has always been there, but I have never been so open. Everything else I've seen before dims by comparison. It is the cleanest moment of my life.

Fourth Hour

Nature calls. I don't want them to find me with soiled trunks. It would call to mind that alliterative phrase that begins with the word "scared." So I take down my trunks and have, I don't know how else to express this, the best bowel movement of my life. I am aware that it is also the last. It affirms that I am still here, still functioning as a human being.

I even take a sighting on the result floating down current. I want it to show me I am heading due north again, where I presume they will search, if anyone is searching. I am going northeast.

I think of my wife, Muriel. We have no children, so she's on her own. I had wanted to set up a living trust for her, but I kept putting it off. That would have prevented the legal fees and the probate time, and whatever I had would have gone straight to her, but I never got around to it. God, what a miserable epitaph. I never got around to it. And now I never will. I've shortchanged her, and there is nothing I can do to change things. Our 30th wedding anniversary would have been Nov. 29. Already I'm thinking of myself as a memory. .

So here I am; nothing but a memory, a little pit bobbing up and down, less than small, atomic. I notice I am shaking with chills: hypothermia. I thrash in the water, try to work up anger to get more I adrenaline. I don't want to give in. Not yet. I float over two sharks lying near the bottom.

A big barracuda starts coming in to check me out. When they get old, their pretty silver scales turn dark and ugly. This one is real ugly. Its teeth are humongous. I take my knife from its sheath and wait. When it gets about three feet away I jab toward it and yell. It flashes off - until later. If I were dead or dying or couldn't respond, it would have hit me. They know when you're dying. They just know.

I'm still not afraid. I try to make myself absorb every detail. I want to feel my life to the last second. I almost 'laugh at the joy of it, I think about saying this out loud: "It's a great life, I gotta tell you. Anybody who's saddened by life, who's dissatisfied, anybody who's unhappy, I recommend a five-hour drift." But who would hear it? If there has to be a moment of death, I want to enjoy it, if it's possible, to feel the crossover, if there is such a thing as crossing over. I want to see it, feel it, taste it, be part of it. I want to participate. You can't be purer than death.

Fifth Hour

I know there's no hope, but I still act hopeful. My eyes are continually searching the horizon, looking in the sky. All of a sudden, the sky opens. Whoosh. A jet comes out of nowhere and tears over my head, nearly splits my head in half. It's about 2:15 p.m. I see the markings - it's a Coast Guard jet. Now I hear my voice: "S---, that couldn't be for me." But something has been lit inside me. Someone has notified the Coast Guard.

Five minutes later, I hear the whir of a helicopter. Right over the horizon, like you see in movies, like this is some big movie set, I see two of them heading right for me. I feel the adrenaline surge. Hope is starting to fire up heavy.

Suddenly, the helicopters split at right angles, then go back over the horizon again and disappear. My heart sinks, also a trite, but very apt description of a real physical sensation. I know the chopper pilots will never find me. The captain thinks I was drifting north. The pilots will be concentrating their search on the wrong heading. They re-appear on the horizon, but again they split up and vanish.

A third time, they come. I'm excited. I start to use my mirror. I want to fire the strobe, but I make myself wait. I don't want to run down the battery. I'm less than a coconut out here. They're miles from me. In that rough water, the mirror is nothing but a glimmer and the water is shimmering like a million diamonds.

I'm nothing. Oh my God, I'm thinking, Oh my God. The truth strikes me like a barracuda: I don't want to die. One of the helicopters veers off toward the west and disappears. The other, though, keeps coming toward me, passing overhead. Now's the time to use the strobe. I turn it on once, then off. It flashes. On again, then off. Another flash. A few seconds pass between each one, but it seems like an eternity.

Coast Guard Lt. Jim Manning, piloting the craft, was the first to spot the flash from Friend's strobe.

Manning: It was very, very exciting. I calmly turned to the other pilot and said, There he is. He said, Say again. I said, There he is. And then we're hitting each on other's helmets, jumping up and down. Pandemonium. When you find a person in the water, a live person, it's an unbelievable feeling. I've never found a live one in my three years of search-and-rescue. It makes it all worthwhile. Older pilots used to tell me, you may only get one rescue in your whole career, but when you do, you'll understand why we do this. Now I understand.

Larry: Then, just like in the movies, that guy turns suddenly and swoops down over me. I see this guy standing in the cargo door and he sees me and I take off the camera lanyard from my wrist and I give him a big salute - we call that a highball in the Army - and he gives it back. We do that seven or eight times. Back and forth. I feel like I can walk on water on my fins. That's how happy I am. I can't articulate it. But the joy is emanating from me, from my entire system, entire body. It's a glow, a glow. Holy mackerel, it's crazy. A needle in a haystack would have been easier to find.

A Coast Guard beat appears and they pull me out of the water like I am a little piece of cork. They wash me down on the deck and give me water. I feel great. Not wobbly or anything.1 hug everybody. The most extreme happiness I've ever felt. I am laughing. I am high, high. Clear up in the sky.

When I get back to the dive boat and finally see the skipper, I'm not angry really. I'm not a vengeful person. It's not productive. I'm a consenting adult and I shouldn't have gone on that dive. It was just too rough. I accept responsibility for what I did. But the captain's ultimately in charge and he should have known I wasn't on board when he left. He says, Larry I'm sorry. I just don't understand what happened. I tell him, Well, just don't let it happen again.

When you dive for years, you get to feeling invincible, immortal. You become lax-and take things for granted. It's like, I'm good and I don't have to hold hands with my dive buddy. I felt a communion with the sea. I still feel it. I'm at home in the sea. What can the sea do to me? It loves me. The next day I go on five dives.

While Larry Friend was enduring his ordeal, his wife, Muriel, was going about her business in Hollywood. It was strictly routine. She had no forebodings, no disturbing dreams or sudden flashes of concern. She had always trusted her husband's instincts, and when he was off on one of his dive trips, she never gave his safety a second's thought

Muriel: While he was still on the dive trip, I went to a funeral, and someone there said, "Where's Larry?" I kind of smiled and said, "Oh, he's out floating around in the middle of the ocean somewhere."

The Friends keep in touch with the crew. Larry recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of his rescue, which he affectionately calls his "re-born birthday".

Read more about members of the Coast Guard Foundation Munro Society.

 

Douglas A. Munro

munro

Douglas Munro
Only Coast Guard Recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor
Signalman First Class Douglas Munro is the namesake for the Coast Guard Foundation's Planned Giving Society
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