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'Go, be free:' Boat captains free entangled sea turtle 30 miles off St. Augustine

The captains were trying to find a wayward buoy. When they found it, its ropes were wrapped around a large sea turtle.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla — Two men became heroes after stumbling across a sea turtle in crisis, tangled in a buoy line off the coast of St. Augustine.

Last month, Captains Trey Tuggle and Jeremy Larson were working when they got called out to pull in a buoy.

The two men work for TowBoat U.S. They went 30 miles off the St. Augustine coast to retrieve a federal government buoy that had broken loose from its mooring. 

However, every time the captains got to the last known GPS coordinates for the buoy, the buoy wasn't there.

After some roaming around, they found the buoy. Its ropes were tangled around a loggerhead sea turtle.

"It was a big turtle," Tuggle remembered. 

He estimates it was at least four feet long and about 200 pounds. Tuggle said the rope went around his flipper and neck.

"Of course, I don’t want to see anything suffer," he said. "So I whipped out my pocket knife and went to work on it. I figured I need to get the flipper loose first."

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Tuggle, with some struggle from the turtle, was able to get his knife between the rope and the flipper, and he severed the rope.  All the while, Tuggle was carefully watching out for the turtle’s powerful jaws.

"He could probably crush a coconut, so if he got a hold of your arm..." Tuggle nodded. "It could be bad."

But he knew he had to cut the rope that was still wrapped twice around the turtle's neck. 

"I stuck my hand down in his neck (area), under the rope there, and I cut that rope... and then he was free!"

Tuggle smiled as he said that. 

Larson caught the whole rescue on video.  And that video underscores the fact that wayward buoys can be dangerous to boaters and to wildlife. It also shows kindness of two heroes.

Tuggle, a month after the incident, said, "At the moment, we were busy and were just doing stuff.  And afterward we turn to each other and said, 'Wow! That was really cool!'"

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