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Charleston Post & Courier

The fatal Charleston sailboat accident that changed Coast Guard search and rescue

The teen’s voice came over the radio at 2:17 a.m., a cry for help on a dark, moonless night. “May … Mayday,” a desperate plea shouted over the crackling static. “U.S. Coast Guard, come in.” The Morning Dew sailboat had crashed into one of the rocky jetties at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, and now the 34-foot sloop was struggling against the waves.

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New Book

Lost in Charleston’s Waves is the pulse-pounding true story of mistakes by the Coast Guard that resulted in deaths in the early morning hours of December 29, 1997. Just after 2 a.m., Michael Cornett was at the helm of his 34’ motorized sailboat, the Morning Dew. His two sons, Paul and Daniel, and their cousin, Bobby Lee Hurd, Jr., were aboard and fast asleep. Cornett struck a stone jetty on the outer entrance to Charleston Harbor. It’s believed Cornett was incapacitated on impact and thrown overboard. The crash woke up the boys. For several agonizing hours, the “Three Amigos” as they were called, stayed with the vessel. They briefly radioed the coast guard. A coast guard watchstander heard the first part of the call but missed the word MAYDAY. He didn’t replay the tape to double-check. Later, the boys abandoned the sinking sail boat. They were floating in freezing waters. A crewman from a nearby Japanese car carrier heard the boys cry for help and called for help. A second coast guard watchstander failed to launch a comprehensive search and rescue mission. Instead, the guard asked a local pilot boat to check the area to see if anything was amiss. That effort was suspended before sunrise.