Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Collier County, Florida heroes honored with public service awards

Tony Radelat was pinned upside down in a tree, 20 feet above the ground after crashing his ultralight plane in March near Lake Trafford in Immokalee.

The Cape Coral man struggled to remain conscious as he spoke with Collier County Sheriff’s Office 911 dispatcher Richard Swink.

The two men would remain on the phone for nearly two hours.

Gradually triangulating Radelat’s position by the sounds of helicopter rotors in the background of the call — an ingenuous maneuver Collier Sheriff Kevin Rambosk called a high-stakes game of “hot-and-cold” — Swink guided rescue personnel to Radelat’s location in time to save the man’s life.

And for that, Radelat, 68, will be eternally grateful.

“All through the ordeal, he just kept me going,” Radelat said. “He kept saying, ‘We have you. We have your position. We’re coming for you.’ It kept me from passing out.”

In recognition of his heroic efforts, Swink was one of four people honored on Wednesday with a 2013 Distinguished Public Service Award by the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce in a ballroom at the Hilton Naples.

Other award recipients during the 10th annual event highlighted by a keynote speech from state Sen. Garrett Richter included Jerry Sanford of the North Naples Fire Control and Rescue District, for his ongoing efforts to construct a local memorial for the victims of Sept. 11, 2001; Collier Sheriff’s Detective Scott Peterson, for his investigative work in tracking down an out-of-state man who’d absconded with two Golden Gate teenagers he’d met on the Internet; and Collier EMS Lt. Diane Smith, for her sterling track record with the agency.

Swink deflected credit for his part in saving Radelat’s life while he accepted the Life and Safety Award.

“I’m greatly honored and humbled to receive an award like this, but I’m more grateful that Tony is here with us today,” Swink said. “It could’ve been anyone else answering the phone and the result would’ve been the same. I just happened to pick up the phone that day.”

Radelat was present at Wednesday’s ceremony to thank Swink personally.

“When I heard that Rich was receiving this award, I don’t think wild horses could’ve kept me away,” Radelat said, drawing a wave of laughter from the crowd.

“To me, Rich is the most deserving person of this award because I am living proof of what he does. I want to thank him from the very bottom of my heart.”

Sanford — a former New York City firefighter — fought back tears as he accepted the Fire Safety Award.

“I humbly accept this award in memory of the innocent people who lost their lives on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City, at the Pentagon and on Flight 93,” he said in a voice choked with emotion. “We will never forget you.”

In addition to helping track down the missing Golden Gate teenagers, Peterson was also honored on Wednesday for his part in helping to find a missing Immokalee child.

Since Peterson is currently out of the country, his Law Enforcement Award was accepted on his behalf by his son, Trevor, who Rambosk swore-in as a Collier sheriff’s deputy Tuesday night.

“I’m honored to accept this award on his behalf and I’d like to thank everyone for his nomination,” the younger Peterson said.

In the past year, Smith has received a 100 percent compliance-rate on an unannounced inspection, administered 1,600 medical procedures and has overseen a nearly flawless response-time on 430 emergency calls.

“I’m very honored, very grateful and very humbled,” Smith said as she received the Emergency Medical Service Award. “Thank you very much.”

Richter, a Bronze Star recipient during the Vietnam War, said the word “pride” best summed up what everyone in the ballroom should have felt Wednesday.

“This is a community that everyone in this room should be proud of, and you should always carry that pride wherever you go,” he said.

Daily News Editor Manny Garcia emceed the ceremony.

“The selection process was very difficult,” Garcia said. “There are stories out there that the general public will never hear about, but for these men and women they’re everyday events.”

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO John Cox echoed those sentiments.

“It’s humbling to be in the presence of these heroes,” he said.

Story and Photo Gallery:

NTSB Identification: ERA13LA171 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, March 16, 2013 in Immokalee, FL
Aircraft: MCNULTY JOHN S AEROLITE 103, registration: N2549W
Injuries: 1 Serious.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On March 16, 2013, about 1000 eastern daylight time, an experimental, amateur built, Aerolite 103, N2549W, was substantially damaged when it collided with terrain near Immokalee, Florida. The private pilot sustained serious injuries. The airplane was registered to and operated by the private pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight. The flight departed from Immokalee Regional Airport (IMM), Immokalee, Florida at 0900.

According to the pilot’s spouse, he was returning from a local flight. She spoke to him prior to his departure and he stated that everything was “fine” with the airplane. This was the last time she spoke to the pilot. At approximately 1045, the pilot called 911 to advise them that he had crashed his airplane and needed assistance. First responders located the pilot, and he was transported to a local hospital.

Examination of the airplane by the local authorities revealed that it came to rest in a heavily wooded area, and exhibited substantial damage. The airplane will be recovered for further examination at a later date.