Man Swims For Hours Towing Survivors Of Plane Crash

MIAMI - With a crash survivor under one arm, another survivor and a dog on his back, and two other men in tow, Dan Tuckfield swam for miles after the group's plane belly-landed in the ocean off Bimini on its way from Chub Cay to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Tuckfield, pilot Brad Youngberg and Delano Hicks, a passenger, made it. Ira and Dorothy "Dottie" Bloom of Charleston, S.C., and their dog died despite Tuckfield's efforts.

Yesterday, Tuckfield, 35, was in Jackson Memorial Hospital, credited with helping save Hicks, 58, and Youngberg, 48, by swimming to Cat Cay for help after the crash of the Piper Seneca on Tuesday.

Both Tuckfield and Youngberg were in good condition, suffering only from exposure. Hicks was in critical condition with hypothermia.

Only hours after being rescued, Tuckfield, a Fort Lauderdale boat engineer, gave the only account so far of what happened. He recounted his story from a hospital bed surrounded by TV cameras and reporters. He was sunburned, hoarse and eating ice by the cupful.

"It was tough, the longest I've ever been in the water," he said.

Obviously elated to be alive, he also had somber moments as he recalled the ordeal and the deaths of the Blooms, who often spent time aboard their 50-foot Hatteras fishing boat at Chub Cay.

Ira Bloom, 54, had just recovered from cancer and was weakened by medication. Dottie Bloom, 49, did not know how to swim.

"I felt so bad. They were among my best friends," said Tuckfield, as tears slid down his face. "They were like family."

The plane took off at 4:10 p.m. Twenty-five minutes later, Tuckfield said, the port engine lost power; within minutes the starboard engine failed. Youngberg made an emergency landing, splashing down 25 miles east of Bimini about 4:50 p.m.

No one was hurt. Only Tuckfield, a strong swimmer, did not put on a life jacket.

When the plane did not arrive in Fort Lauderdale, the Coast Guard launched six helicopters and a jet for a search that covered 4,260 square miles of ocean.

"We could see the red tower on Bimini," said Tuckfield, who swam with Dottie Bloom and her dog on his back, and Ira Bloom under his arm.

But the current proved too strong, dragging the group to the south. They changed course and headed for Cat Cay.

By that time, the seas were getting rougher and the water colder, Tuckfield said. Worse, both Blooms were swallowing salt water and having trouble keeping afloat.

By 7:30 Wednesday morning, Ira Bloom had become irrational, ripping off his life vest and letting himself sink under the water. Tuckfield said he pulled Bloom up and tried to resuscitate him. But it was too late.

Still, Tuckfield held on to his friend's body and kept swimming.

About 1 p.m., he noticed a tiger shark circling closer and closer, Tuckfield said. At the same time, Dottie Bloom became delirious, Tuckfield said.

That's when he let go of Ira Bloom's body.

About an hour later, Dottie Bloom "turned white and pale. She never came to," Tuckfield said.

The Blooms' bodies have not been recovered.

After Dottie Bloom died, Tuckfield drowned the dog, who had grown panicky. Recounting that moment, Tuckfield's voice cracked and his eyes filled with tears. The next few hours passed quietly as the three remaining survivors continued to swim for shore. Tuckfield swam ahead, towing the other men by a rope.