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Nick Schulyer's rescue picture: The full story

12:43 PM, Mar 4, 2010   |    comments
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  • U.S. Coast Guard Photo
  • U.S. Coast Guard Photo
  • U.S. Coast Guard Photo
  • Fireman Adam Campbell, U.S. Coast Guard

St. Petersburg, Florida -- The Coast Guard member who snapped that iconic photograph of Nick Schuyler's rescue one year ago spoke only with 10 Connects.

As cold wind blew and waves rolled high, the Coast Guard Cutter Tornado joined a sprawling search effort in the Gulf of Mexico one year ago this week.

And Fireman Adam Campbell admits, his normally optimistic shipmates saw nearly no hope.

"Everybody was thinking, you know, I don't think this guy's out here. This -- this boat that we're looking for, I'm not thinking we're gonna find them," Campbell said this week in an exclusive interview with 10 Connects.

Hours passed. They stared at an angry ocean. There was no sign of four missing football playing friends -- Marquis Cooper, Corey Smith, Will Bleakley, and Nick Schuyler -- or their boat.

Suddenly, "somebody on the bridge -- the pilot house -- spotted him," Campbell said.

"Sure enough, from there, they piped over the intercom the rescue and assistance alarm.

"I went up, topside, grabbed my camera, and saw the capsized boat -- and just started taking pictures.

"It happened so quick, it was -- it was crazy."

Fireman Campbell is still serving aboard the Tornado, which is based in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Onboard the ship, Campbell has a pretty ordinary job:

"I'm an engineer. I'm checking the oil, our engines, doing rounds of the ship," he said.

But, Campbell also volunteered for a secondary duty.

"For every rescue, any kind of operations we do, I'm the guy that grabs the camera and starts taking pictures," he said.

His training?

"I took an online class. Just a two-hour online class," Campbell said.

That class, plus some practice, yielded those iconic images.

"I was very shocked," Campbell remembered.

"I don't know how this guy's out here in these seas, and -- it was very shocking.

"But, at the same time, it was very uplifting because we had found this guy, and that's why I joined -- to save lives."

Campbell's shots captured each stage of Nick Schuyler's rescue.

One shows Schuyler all alone, sitting at the rear of the overturned boat, with its white hull barely showing above the water's surface behind him.

Schuyler's hands are holding the propeller of the boat's upside-down outboard motor.

Another image shows Schuyler in the same position, but framed up so the boat is on the left side of the photo.

On the right, a small motorboat with four visible members of the U.S. Coast Guard is racing toward Schuyler, and away from Campbell as he snapped the shot.

A third picture captures an orange-and-white Coast Guard helicopter hovering above the Tornado. Nick Schuyler is sitting in a metal basket just outside the aircraft's open door.

A member of the helicopter's crew has his hand on the basket's frame -- with as tight a grip as you'll ever see.

"It happened so quick, it just seemed like -- it was just like a flash," Campbell said.

"And I still look at that photograph today -- him clinging on, and then our small boat heading toward him.

"I think that's very -- showing that we're on a mission to save lives. This is what we do. That -- I think that brings a lot of respect to the Coast Guard."

Only 20 years old at the time, Fireman Campbell had been in the Coast Guard just one year when he snapped the series of pictures that spread around the world.

Connect with 10 Connects multi-media journalist Grayson Kamm on Twitter as @graysonkamm, on his Facebook page, or by e-mail at this link.

Grayson Kamm, 10 Connects

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