Marietta man, dog survive dramatic rescue when boat overturns

Marietta dentist James Henson says he's been in tight spots before.  The lifelong hunter served in the Army, and considers himself to be pretty self-reliant.

A hunting trip alone with just his dog  in Florida's Choctawhatchee Bay? No problem, the 55-year-old says.

Well, not until a rogue wave crashed into his aluminum boat, tipping it and sending Henson and his black lab, Trueman, into 50-degree water, 300 yards off the shore early on New Year's Day.

"It was almost instantaneous," Henson said Tuesday. "It was washed completely over me, and the boat just stood up on its back end. All of a sudden, we were in the water."

It would be nearly 45 minutes until Henson, so cold he couldn't feel his hands, would be rescued from the bay. A passer-by noticed the debris from his boat floating in the water, and called 9-1-1, Henson said. The sound of sirens let him know help was on the way.

Because the water that filled his clothes made him considerably heavier, Henson said it took three firefighters to pull him out of the water and into a rescue boat. His body was so cold, his veins collapsed, he said, making it impossible for medical personnel to start an IV during the ambulance ride.

When he arrived at Sacred Heart Hospital in Miramar Beach, his body temperatures was 88 degrees.

"I didn't think I was gonna die, but I was pretty cold," said Henson, who was wearing a life preserver.

Warm intravenous fluids, blankets and hot chocolate helped warm him, and doctors placed him inside a device blowing warm air. A few hours later, Henson was released from the hospital. He waited until then to let his wife back in Georgia know because he didn't want her to worry.

On Monday, he returned to his dental practice. Tuesday afternoon, he said he had several thank-you letters ready to be mailed to Walton County emergency officials and medical personnel, whom he credits with saving his life. He's not sure who made the call to report his emergency, but he's certainly appreciates whoever did.

Henson considers his four-legged companion a hero, too.

Trueman was wearing a neoprene suit when the boat flipped over, and Henson was able to help get the dog on top of the boat. But with his own clothing full of water, he couldn't pull himself up, Henson said. The dog jumped back into the water.

He decided to try to make it shore, and Trueman was right there to help him.

“I kept telling him ‘we’ve got to go to the truck,' " Henson said.

Together, they made it to within 100 yards of the shore. But Henson's hands were too cold and it was hard to move. Trueman circled him twice, and then began to push him. Henson told himself he was going to make it to shore.

"I had to stay alive to keep my dog alive," he said.

After three rescuers pulled Henson into a boat, others help guide Trueman to shore.

Although he'll have to replace the motor in his boat as well as a lot of equipment he lost, Henson says he plans to hunt again, hopefully before duck hunting season ends at the end of January.

Henson said he'll tell his wife of his plans -- as soon as he's all packed and ready to go.