Survivor of El Toro II sinking 25 years ago recalls heroic efforts
Twenty-five years ago this week, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, first responders quickly flew and motored out from southern St. Mary’s to a fishing boat carrying about two dozen people that was falling apart in the Chesapeake Bay.
The sinking of the El Toro II on Dec. 5, 1993, left three men dead, and prompted federal hearings, civil litigation that was settled, a trial ending in the boat owners’ acquittal on criminal charges, and exhaustive research and findings on emergency radio communications, commercial watercraft inspections and the corrosion of fasteners on wood-hulled vessels.
Teresa Shipe Dumas and her husband, Robert, living in Mechanicsville, were aboard the El Toro II when its half-day headboat excursion turned into a frantic effort to get back to shore, and its hull boards came loose while slamming against the waves.
Now 62, Dumas remembers the heroic response by fire and rescue volunteers, state and military authorities, and hospital staff that followed the last moments she and 45-year-old Robert Bernard Shipe shared together, before a helicopter’s dive crew pulled her away and onto the aircraft, as he stayed with others clutching a life ring after everyone had abandoned ship.
Earlier, aboard the boat, “I can still see him bailing that water … and not making any headway, because it was filling up the boat,” she said last week. “He was someone who would do anything he could to take care of somebody.”
Shipe was accompanied during that effort by 19-year-old Edgar Curtis “Ed” Phillips Jr. of Piney Point, the boat’s first mate. “I think very often about that young nice man,” Dumas said, noting that Shipe also “made sure Eddie was OK.”
But when Dumas was among the first people put aboard the helicopter, after about 90 minutes in the cold December waters, Shipe, Phillips and 64-year-old Horace Ira Smith of Washington, D.C., were among the people still holding onto the ring.
Dumas and Shipe “had wrapped our ankles around each other. I remember that feeling of being pulled apart,” she said, and when they spoke of their love for each other, “We didn’t know it would be our last words.”
From the helicopter, Dumas looked out, she said, and “We made eye contact. He was looking up like ‘It’s all going to be OK.’”
She was at the hospital in Leonardtown when she was told that her husband had died, and later learned that Phillips also had died, as had Smith.
Shipe “and Eddie were the last two out of the water. They let everybody else [be rescued] in front of them.” Dumas said.
“They were heroes that day. The ones who made the ultimate sacrifice were Bob Shipe and Eddie Phillips,” she said, also remembering the loss of “poor Mr. Smith.”
Afterward, Dumas’ life focused on the well-being of the couple’s teenage daughter. Dumas remarried three years later, and lives near the county line in Charlotte Hall. She makes visits each December to Shipe’s grave in West Virginia or where they boarded the El Toro II at St. Jerome Creek, a tributary of the bay where Daniel Jason Brown, who was at one time married to Dumas’ daughter, drowned three years ago.
“My grandchildren [also] lost their dad in the Chesapeake Bay,” Dumas said. “Who would have ever thought?”
Keep cheer here on town’s First Friday
The December First Friday event to be held this evening in Leonardtown will feature holiday season specials at participating merchants and restaurants, and the monthly audience-participation Drum Circle with the SoMar Drummers to be held from 7 to 8 p.m. at the St. Mary’s County Arts Council.
A “Keep Cheer Here” theme promotes shopping locally and supporting small businesses that give back to the community year-round through helping the local economy, creating jobs and opportunities, and promoting local musicians and artists through free concerts and other events in the town.
For more information, go online to the “Leon- ardtown First Fridays” Facebook page.
Help law officers feed the hungry
The Lexington Park Community Oriented Policing (COPs) Unit is hosting its second food drive from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday, Dec. 8, at the St. Mary’s Square shopping center, between Ollie’s and Weis Market, off Great Mills Road in Lexington Park.
Along with collecting nonperishable food items for the Lexington Park food pantries, the COPs Unit will also be collecting donations of baby food, diapers and wipes for the Pregnancy Care Center of Southern Maryland.
For more information, send email to sheriff’s Cpl. Timothy Snyder at timothy.sny[email protected] stmarysmd.com.
Remember those lost to homicide
The 17th Silent Angel Memorial honoring people “whose lives were lost by the hands of another,” an invitation states, will be held at 6 p.m. this Sunday, Dec. 9, at the Bay District firehouse located at 46900 South Shangri-La Drive in Lexington Park. For more information, call Stefania Bianco at the sheriff’s office at 301-475-4200, ext. *8104, or send email to stefania. [email protected]
Donations sought to support upcoming Shop with a Cop
The 17th annual Shop with a Cop Christmas event, cosponsored by the Optimist Clubs of St. Mary’s County and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7, will take place Saturday, Dec. 15.
Children from disadvantaged homes are nominated for participation by teachers and selected by the St. Mary’s school board. The children will be picked up at their homes by local, state and federal law enforcement authorities.
Each child is allotted money to spend however they choose, whether it be for themselves, for family members or on household items. After meeting at the Wildewood shopping center, each child and law officer travel to the Walmart store in California, and after they finish shopping, they go to the county fairgrounds, where Optimist club volunteers serve a huge breakfast and wrap their gifts.
Donations for the event received by next Monday, Dec. 10, will help determine how many children can participate.
Teresa Shipe Dumas, accompanied by Leonardtown lawyer Philip H. Dorsey III, testifies in 1993 at a U.S. Coast Guard hearing in Baltimore about the sinking of a fishing boat that cost her husband and two other men their lives.