Three adults, two children and a dog nearly drowned in Roosevelt Lake Sunday after their boat capsized in high waves, leaving them stranded in icy cold water for nearly two hours.
Brent Beckham described the horrifying event Monday, saying he rescued his 11-month-old daughter Brittany from certain death by putting her in an orange ice cooler and holding onto it as he and the rest of his family, including his 8-year-old son, clung to their overturned boat and battled hypothermia and pounding wind and waves.
When help finally arrived, it did not come from the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, but from five employees at the Roosevelt Lake Marina who heard calls for help over the marina radio and jumped into action.
Brent’s wife, Jodie Beckham, 31, was the only person injured in the incident and was flown to a Valley hospital for treatment of hypothermia, and later released.
Brent said when he called the sheriff’s office 911 line for help, a dispatcher told him they were mobilizing officers to rescue them. Three deputies from Payson, Tonto Basin and Globe with watercraft certification began driving to the area while another officer in the area searched for signs of the family from the shore. However, deputies could not locate the trapped family, said Gila County Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Johnson.
Jodie said she is outraged the sheriff’s office did not have someone on duty.
“This cannot happen to another family,” she she said. “What we went through is sick.”
Lt. Tim Scott said they had someone on duty in the area but it would have been unsafe for him to launch a boat by himself in the rough waters.
The heroes of the day proved to be Patrick Creek and Scott Wayland, who left the marina in a rental/rescue boat and spotted the family in the water within 10 minutes.
Asked why it took marina staff only minutes to find the family when deputies could not locate them, Johnson said, he “had no clue, to tell you the truth. We didn’t have a whole lot of direction.”
Since the sheriff’s office only has a few watercraft-certified deputies, it is impossible to have someone on duty all the time, he said.
“In a perfect world, we would have 24/7 coverage,” Johnson said.
The Beckham family, including friends Cary Lynn and Barbara Trowbridge, initially went out to the lake late Thursday for a three-day camping trip in an area known as “the cove,” on the northeast side of the lake.
The trip was supposed to give closure for Brent, whose father died two weeks ago.
Since the cove is a common camping place for the family, Brent said he was not initially worried about the inclement weather.
After camping for several days, the family debated whether to leave Sunday as the winds picked up. However, because they were in a sheltered cove, Brent underestimated how windy it was in the center of the lake.
Around noon, Brent, son Brett, Brittany, and Lynn loaded into the 17-foot fiberglass fishing boat while Jodie and Trowbridge got on Jet Skis.
As the group headed out onto the lake, Jodie complained to Brent that it was hard for her to drive through the choppy, cold water, and she was losing strength quickly.
Recently, Jodie underwent chemotherapy and radiation for cervical cancer. After a year away from the lake, this was one of the first times she had been back on the water.
Several hundred yards out in the lake, Jodie lost her balance and fell into the lake. Brent turned the fishing boat around and grabbed Jodie out of the water. Lynn tied a rope to Jodie’s Jet Ski and fastened it to the boat.
As the group tried to regroup, high swells pummeled the boat, filling it quickly with water.
“I looked around and thought, ‘holy crap, we’re sinking,’” Jodie said.
Brent got on his cell phone and dialed 911. Dispatch said no one was in the area to help. Recognizing that his family was on their own, but determined not to break their spirits, Brent decided not to tell his family that no one was coming.
“I hung up the phone and said, ‘Help’s on the way,’” Brent said. “I couldn’t bear to tell them.”
The boat continued to take on more water and Brent realized they would soon be in the water. He grabbed the cooler, dumped the food and put Brittany in it to protect her from the frigid water.
Suddenly, the boat overturned, sending the family and dog Stormy into the water. Everyone but Brent was wearing a life vest.
Brent yelled at Trowbridge, who was still on her Jet Ski, to go to shore for help.
As waves crashed against them and 30-mile-per-hour winds whipped at their faces, the family feverishly held onto the overturned boat’s hull while Lynn clung to Jodie’s Jet Ski.
Stormy managed to sit on top of the overturned hull.
Brent said he held the cooler with Brittany inside in one arm while holding onto the boat with his other arm.
After holding on for some time, Brent told Jodie he could not hold on anymore.
Immediately, Jodie started praying and Brent said he felt stronger and was able to lock his elbows over the boat’s hull and hold the cooler out in front of him.
“I thought we were going to die,” Brent and Jodie said with tears in their eyes.
“I told Brent, ‘Whatever you do, don’t let go of that cooler,’” Jodie said.
Brett, who remained calm throughout the ordeal, said it felt like they were on the Titanic.
As minutes turned into an hour, Brent said he checked on Brittany every few minutes by pushing the cooler open with his nose and looking inside.
Eventually, Brittany stopped crying and Jodie worried she would die. Using one hand, Brent let water out of the cooler through a side spigot and she started moving around again.
Brent tried to keep the family warm in the 68-degree water by telling them to kick their legs. Eventually, Jodie said she could not kick anymore.
Around 12:55 p.m., Trowbridge made it to shore and ran to the sheriff’s substation. Over the radio, marina employees Creek and Wayland, Ed Bachtell, Mike Seltner and Mike Meinert heard that help was needed.
Bachtell called the sheriff’s office and found out a family’s boat had capsized.
Creek and Wayland jumped on a rental boat and drove out to the family, who had drifted to within 100 yards of the north shore during the 90 minutes they had drifted in the water.
When they arrived, Jodie’s temperature had dropped to 82 degrees. Wayland pulled the family onto the rescue boat and Creek drove to shore.
On land, Jodie could not walk or talk. She was airlifted to a hospital, warmed up and released. The rest of the family was treated and released on scene.
Later, Bachtell and Seltner used the marina’s large barge to pull the boat and Jet Ski to shore where a forklift removed them.
Brent said he plans to retrieve the boat and Jet Ski.
In hindsight, the Beckhams said they should have waited another day before leaving.