Pilots patrol waters for boaters in need

Posted at 1:15 AM, Oct 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-24 01:15:57-04

The United States Coast Guard aren't the only ones looking out for boaters in distress. The Sundown Patrol of Lee County is a group made up of both pilots and civilians who patrol the waters by Florida's gulf.  Pilots and ordinary citizens joining the cause because of their own experiences being stranded at sea.

"I was out there. I was out forty miles, I had a chance to experience this first hand. My radio didn't work, my ship to shore didn't work and H had a handheld and tried the handheld and somebody heard my faintly," said Stan Mleczko, who has been a pilot for over forty years.

The Sundowners have done their air patrols for over fifty years. The volunteers driven not only by their passion for flying but also the desire to help boaters in their hour of need.

"I signed up because I love to fly and I'm also a boater," said Mark Steinberg, one of the other Sundown Patrol pilots. "I just love to be able to help out with the cause of missing boaters and boaters in distress," he added.

But pilots aren't the only volunteers giving their time, the rest of the crew inside the plane are called "observers." They monitor both radar and signs of distress out on the horizon as well.

"We are looking for light signals smoke signals," said Steinberg.

The Sundowners work closely with the United States Coast Guard. One of the crew members calls the Coast Guard just before take off to see how they can be of help.

"We are also in radio contact constantly with the Coast Guard available to go on any mission or case they need us to work on," said Steinberg.

If the Sundown Patrol spots people in trouble, they relay the GPS coordinates to the Coast Guard. They descend and circle in the air to let those people down below that help is on the way.

"It's just wonderful to know that here we have Sundowners that are going out there and looking for boaters that are in trouble," said Mleczko.

The Sundown Patrol is run entirely off donations. The group is hosting a "Fun for Funds" event over at the Sabal Springs Golf Club on November 19th in North Fort Myers. Mleczko and his fellow volunteers hope to raise the money they need to keep their planes fueled up and in the sky. You can visit their page for details on the fundraiser.