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Boat carrying Tennessee coaches and students sinks in Costa Rica

Posted at 4:24 PM, Jan 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-08 20:53:50-05

COSTA RICA (WTVF) — Four Middle Tennesseans were on a fishing boat that sunk in Costa Rica. They escaped with their lives thanks to life jackets and an orange University of Tennessee shirt.

Brentwood Academy's upper school is nearly empty as most students are getting back from traveling around the world this week. Football players Garrett Crouch and Ethan Oesterle decided to go to Costa Rica as part of a school program called Winterim, which allows students to travel outside the classroom for learning experiences.

While on a fishing excursion, Crouch, Oesterle, Coach Chandler Ganick, and Coach Jimmy Ker hit some trouble.

"Waves I would say got up to 14 to 15 feet at some times. We were jumping the boat completely out of the water," Crouch said. "The captain made the decision that probably saved our lives, told us to put life jackets on about 10 minutes before the boat sank."

A large wave engulfed the boat miles away from the surfing village called Tamarindo.

"Coach Ker, Jimmy, who was the other chaperon with us was kind of trying to help the captain and stuff, Ethan yanks Jimmy out of the boat!" Ganick said.

It all happened in seconds. They tried to swim to shore but were fighting against 40mph winds.

"For a couple minutes when the waves really got bad, it was hard to keep my head above the water," Oesterle said, "Me personally as soon as I got in the water my contacts fell out and I’m blind as a bat, so I was just seeing colors and tan and I was like I’m going that way."

Some of them got separated. They were in the water for roughly 2.5 hours until Crouch was spotted by a group on another fishing charter.

"What actually happened was I was wearing a Tennessee shirt, an orange Tennessee shirt, and the man’s wife was looking over the ocean and she’s like, 'There’s something over there that’s orange on the horizon,' and they were like, 'That’s a person in the water!'" Crouch said.

The captain rescued Crouch and called for help. They contacted the Coast Guard and the U.S. Embassy. Crouch said one of his rescuers was wearing a Vanderbilt hat, and the group laughed about the Nashville connection.

"The Tennessee shirt saved my life honestly," Crouch said.

Coach Ganick said his prayers were answered, and they were rescued shortly after Crouch. They escaped the situation with a bad sunburn, and a good life lesson-- life jackets save lives.

Following the ordeal, all four of them got back on a boat the next day with their entire school group.