Underwater rescue victim lives to thank first responders who saved him

Against all odds, a 16-yr-old survived being underwater for nearly 20 minutes. Two years later, he was finally able to meet the first responders who saved him.

It’s what family and friends do, sit around a table sharing memories and meals.

In Plaquemine however, for one particular group, sitting around a table took on a whole new meaning after one call on June 12, 2019 around 8:17 am.

DISPATCH: 911, what’s your emergency?

CALLER: Yes mam. Got a vehicle in the bayou here at 62400 Bayou Jacob Rd., submerged.

DISPATCH: Okay, is someone in the vehicle?

CALLER: It’s a vehicle submerged.

DISPATCH: Is someone in there?

CALLER: I can’t tell ma’am. They got power lines on the ground. The vehicle is underwater at this time.

The call is dispatched out to the Plaquemine Fire Department in Iberville Parish.

DISPATCH: Attention Plaquemine Fire Department. Please respond to 62400 Bayou Jacob Rd. for a vehicle in the bayou. It is submerged. First dispatch 8:19 am.

The first fire engine rolled out while 911 was still on the phone with the caller.

DISPATCH: There’s going to be a vehicle in the bayou. Unknown if anyone inside. Caller you there?

CALLER: Yes ma’am, the person is still in the vehicle.

DISPATCH: Did you see the car go in?

CALLER: I’m looking at the car with its tail lights up. 

The call was also dispatched out to the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office.

SHERIFF’S OFFICE: IS14 and IS4 enroute. We getting reports from 911 that the occupants are still in the vehicle.

Until first responders arrived, the caller was the only one able to provide minute by minute account of what was happening at the scene of Bayou Jacob in Plaquemine.

CALLER: He’s in the car.

DISPATCH: He’s still in the car?

CALLER: Yeah

DISPATCH: Okay

CALLER: Looks like a pickup truck is what it is.

DISPATCH: That’s what’s in the water?

CALLER: Yeah. Looks like it’s floating up a little bit. Bubbles coming from top of the area he’s at.

Sgt. Derrick McPhate with the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office was on another call when this specific call came across his phone.

“I left that scene and started heading down to Bayou Jacob,” said Sgt. McPhate

Seven minutes since the crash, he was the first to arrive on scene with the caller filling him in.

CALLER: You gonna need rescue buddy. He’s in that truck. Truck is submerged. He’s in the cab in the truck. The guy is in the cab right now in the water.

MCPHATE: Truck submerged. We need to get somebody here. I’m going in.

With one last dispatch before he went in the water, Sgt. McPhate requested a boat also be enroute. That however was at least 20 minutes out. Meanwhile, Deputy Bronson Lewis heard the call on his radio as well.

“I hauled tail to the call and I was taking everything off on the way, belt, boots,” said Deputy Lewis.  

“I get there. I hear McPhate saying that he needed some help so down the bank I went. There was a small crack in the window and I was on top of the roof. Derrick was on the bottom of the door. I can remember us trying to break that window and that window just kept flexing and we couldn’t get it,” said Deputy Lewis.

That’s when the first firefighter arrived on scene, Asst. Plaquemine Fire Chief Derrick Bujol.

“As soon as I get there, they holler at me they need something to bust a window so I throw them one of the hydra-wrenches out of the back,” said Asst. Chief Bujol.

And he too started making his way into the water making it three people trying to somehow save the driver who had been unwater for 10 minutes by this time.

“At that time, they have the window busted. After I felt that there was no one in the driver seat, I actually went up to my waist in the vehicle, which was under the water, and I start sweeping around. Well, I felt something. At that time, I realized it was a leg. I grabbed Hunter by his leg and I came out and I told Derrick and them, ‘I have him’,” said Asst. Chief Bujol.  

While all that was ongoing, Firefighter Shaun Bordelon was also enroute. Just as the submerged pick-up truck’s driver was pulled out of the water, Bordelon was first to administer CPR along with a paramedic from Acadian ambulance. 

FIRE CHIEF: Be advised we got one out of the vehicle. CPR in progress now. 

That victim spent at least 17 minutes under water. Most studies show the likelihood of a “good outcome” anytime someone is under water for more than 10 minutes, is very low.

FIRE CHIEF: EOC, see if we have an Airmed available.

The patient was rushed to Oschner in Iberville Parish.

Meanwhile, back at the scene, first responders continued to pull out the submerged pick-up truck.

FIRE CHIEF: Be advised. We have the vehicle out of the water now. We have done a secondary check. Confirm that only the patient that we transported to the hospital was the only patient in the vehicle. 

The patient had to be transported from Ochsner. He was Airmed to Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge. By this time, none of the first responders even know the patient’s status. Were they able to save him or did he not make it?

SHERIFF’S OFFICE: Airmed to the Lake was breathing whenever he left here.

“We were just trying to pull him out as fast as possible. I didn’t know whether or not he was going to make it you know,” said Sgt. McPhate.

Which is why Sgt. McPhate went back on his radio to confirm what he thought he heard.

SHERIFF’S OFFICE: You advised he was breathing?

DEPUTY: He had a pulse and was breathing whenever Airmed left with him.

“It meant a lot. I remember just praying and praying that he would pull through and he would be able to have a normal life,” said Sgt. McPhate.

The young man all the first responders rescued was Hunter Schurba, 16 years old at the time, loved hunting and fishing and an avid baseball player at St. John High School in Plaquemine with dreams of playing college baseball. On that summer day of June 12, 2019, he was headed to workouts for baseball at the school when for some unknown reason, his truck veered off into Bayou Jacob.

Schurba was underwater at least 17 minutes. He suffered a severe anoxic brain injury. That happens when the brain is deprived of oxygen. But studies show if the brain goes without oxygen for more than five minutes, the patient normally suffers permanent anoxic brain injury. Everything was going against Schurba, which is why when his parents made it the hospital, they did not get the best news.

“Hunter had a sister but when I had her, she was still born so when I got to that hospital and they told me that they didn’t think Hunter was going to make it, I said there was no way I was going to bury another child. I was going to fight and there was no way I could go through that again and thank goodness Hunter fought hard,” said Hunter’s mom Tiffany Schurba.  

For 2.5 weeks, Hunter stayed in a coma at Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge. He had to learn how to do a lot all over again, like walking and even talking.

“During that time, it was up and down. One minute, we thought he would pull through and the next minute, we were getting the worst news of our lives that if Hunter did survive, he would possibly be a vegetable and not be able to take care of himself,” said Schurba.

But Schurba defied the odds. July 10, 2019, Schurba was moved to the Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. He was supposed to spend 16 weeks there going through therapy but given he was fighting so hard, after six weeks, he was allowed to go back home to Grosse Tete in late September.

The next several months involved rehab and physical therapy five days a week. 

Schurba was a sophomore when he wrecked. He wanted to graduate with his friends and class so between rehab & physical therapy, he doubled up on classes to make up his entire junior year that he lost. He was able to graduate with his friends as the class of 2021 this past May.

Now, he’s 19 years old, enrolled at BRCC for construction management, goes to physical therapy twice a week and works with his dad two days. He’s still fighting some memory loss but when it comes to physical therapy, his parents said he’s expected to be released this upcoming February. He’s back to hunting and fishing, has a girlfriend and life you could say is somewhat returning to normal for Schurba. In fact, his doctors cleared him this past October to be able to drive again. His response to beating the odds?

“Thankful, very thankful.”

It was a very emotional interview with Hunter Schurba. Add to that finally being able to meet all the men who saved him for the first time since his wreck in 2019. When Schurba was well enough to meet them, Covid hit delaying that introduction by nearly a year. It’s why on Sunday, Dec. 5th, during the Plaquemine Fire Department’s Christmas dinner, Fire Chief Darren Ramirez invited the Schurbas to that dinner.

The next two hours involved the entire family finally able to meet the men who saved their son. For some of the first responders, this was the first time they were able to see Schurba since they rescued him more than two years ago.

It was an overwhelming introduction not only for his parents but even every first responder.

So now, as they sit around the table, the group will forever share a lifelong bond as complete strangers having become family all over a young man who is now deemed a miracle. 

About Kiran Chawla 920 Articles
I'm an Emmy & Murrow Award winning investigative reporter who simply loves my job!

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