Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Blaine Gabbert and his two visiting brothers were jet skiing in the waters near his Davis Islands home on Thursday when they heard a faint noise and turned to see what they first believed to be a crew boat that had broken up. As they raced over to help, the Gabberts discovered that it was actually a helicopter that had made an emergency water landing and was sinking fast. The pilot and his three passengers had escaped from the helicopter and were in need of help.
Gabbert and his two brothers helped get the floundering foursome out of the water and to a shore about 200 yards away. Gabbert also took out his phone to call for help and, as he described during a press conference at the AdventHealth Training Center on Friday, was amazed at how quickly emergency responders arrived.
"I called 911 and tried to remain as calm as possible," he said. "It all turned positive. They were healthy, scared nervous. It was a pretty crappy situation that turned good in the end. I was just 'right place, right time,' I guess. The credit really goes to Tampa PD – you guys, the fire department, the Sheriff's department – because they were there within, like, five seconds. It was pretty remarkable."
Gabbert and his brothers got the three helicopter passengers on their two jet skis and the quick responders were able to pull the pilot out of the water. The Marine Patrol had already finished their routine on-water patrol for the day, so it could have been some time before the people in distress were spotted if the Gabbert's hadn't been in the area.
"We often say that we cannot do our jobs well without the help of the community, and that we are safer together," said Interim Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw. "Yesterday was an amazing example of teamwork, not only in the sports world, but also in our home town, and that's why this area is known as 'Champa Bay.'"
In addition to the Marine Patrol, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard all assisted in the rescue.
"It wasn't me," said Gabbert, who shared the stage Friday with Bercaw and other representatives of the aforementioned agencies. "It was just my brothers and I out having fun. The credit goes to these guys, because if they weren't there in the nick of time it could have turned bad, and I'm glad everybody's healthy. The water and Mother Nature, she's undefeated. If you don't treat the ocean with the utmost respect, in the air, in a boat, she'll always come back to bite you. You've always got to be responsible, always got to be hyper-aware and you've just kind of got to know what's going on."
The four rescued people – the pilot, a 28-year-old man and his parents – were obviously grateful for the help, but they didn't realize Gabbert was an NFL player.
"I was just trying to do the right thing – help them out," said Gabbert. "Clearly they were in need, and I'm happy they all made it out alive. I honestly wanted to stay anonymous. I just thought I was doing the right thing at the right time. I'm not much of a guy to be in the limelight; I kind of just wanted to stay under the radar."