With His Grandparents Drifting Away from the Boat, He Steps up to Save Them. He's 11.

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Avani Perez, 11, is presented with a U.S. Coast Guard unit coin for his heroic actions.
Avani Perez, 11, is given a unit coin at Coast Guard Station Islamorada on Oct. 9, 2020. While enjoying a day on the water off Rodriguez Key, his grandparents became separated from their boat. Keeping calm and collected, Perez used a cell phone onboard to call 911. According to the Coast Guard, a Good Samaritan and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were able to locate and retrieve the grandparents while Coast Guard Station Islamorada crew members simultaneously located the vessel with Perez onboard. The grandparents were reunited with Perez and their vessel without further incident. (Coast Guard Station Islamorada's Facebook page)

A Hollywood couple and their 11-year-old grandson were rescued at sea by police, the U.S. Coast Guard and some commercial fishermen.

And the Coast Guard and police agencies are praising the boy for staying calm and taking direction from authorities during the ordeal.

At about 2:04 p.m. Thursday, 11-year-old Avani Perez called 911 on a cellphone to report that his grandparents, Jim and Kim Harris, were in the water and drifting away from their boat, according to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.

The family had been boating near Rodriguez Key off mile marker 99 in Islamorada when the anchor line of their 21-foot Mako became caught in the propeller, police said.

Jim Harris, 53, went in the water to free the line but began having trouble.

His wife went in the water with a pool noodle but then both began drifting away from the boat.

"The current was strong and pulling us," Kim Harris, 54, said Friday evening. "We both are swimmers. We couldn't get back to the boat; the current was so strong."

Their grandson immediately asked if he should call the Coast Guard. They told him to call 911.

"He handled himself," his grandmother said. "We never lost sight of the boat but we could only visualize him for 15 minutes."

No injuries were sustained.

"We floated the whole time on the pool noodle," Kim Harris said. "We were thirsty because it was saltwater and it was hot out there."

While they were in the ocean, the boy spent an hour on the phone with Communications Specialist Amanda Coleman.

"Coleman reported Perez kept a level head, donned a life jacket and was able to run through all the safety equipment on the boat," said sheriff's office spokesman Adam Linhardt.

Perez described how far away his grandparents were using football field-sized increments to Coleman until he could no longer see them.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Coast Guard responded.

While the couple was concerned for the boy, they knew deep down he could handle the situation.

"The whole time we were in the water we were like, we know he's got this," said Kim Harris. "He was raised on a boat."

FWC alerted other mariners and commercial fishermen.

After about one hour, some commercial fishermen, including a man they identified as Ernie Piton, pulled the couple to safety.

"They were able to reach over and grab me and pull me onto the platform," Kim Harris said.

The couple are veteran mariners who love to visit the Keys.

"We have spent our lives on the water," said Kim Harris. "We're always on boats. For something like this to happen is traumatizing."

Police praised the 911 specialist, along with the boy.

"The outcome of this case could well have been tragic had 911 Communications Specialist Amanda Coleman not stepped up to the plate, bring all her training to the table and proceed with the utmost professionalism," said Sheriff Rick Ramsay.

Perez, a sixth-grader at Nativity Catholic School in Hollywood, said he doesn't feel like a hero.

"I did what I had to do," he said. "There was no second choice. It had to happen."

The experience hasn't stopped him from wanting to be on the water.

"I wasn't scared or anything, and I'm not scared of the water at all," Perez said.

The U.S. Coast Guard invited Perez to Coast Guard Station Islamorada on Friday in order to commend him for his actions during the ordeal. He received a gold coin from the unit.

This article is written by Gwen Filosa from Florida Keys Keynoter and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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