Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert became a “citizen hero” Thursday when, while out on jet skis with his brothers, he helped rescue a family of three and a pilot from a downed helicopter.
Just after 5 p.m., a helicopter lost power as it approached the Peter O. Knight Airport and descended into the waters of Hillsborough Bay as the pilot conducted an emergency landing near the Davis Islands Yacht Club.
Gabbert, who lives in the Davis Islands archipelago, was out on jet skis with his brothers when he heard the crash.
“I vaguely remember hearing a faint noise, so we turned around, left the yacht club … It almost looked like a crew boat in the water that had broken up into about four pieces. I vaguely remember seeing two yellow life jackets … They looked like they were in duress,” Gabbert said at a Friday press conference.
All three passengers, Wes Hupp, 62, Lisa Hupp, 59, Hunter Hupp, 28, and the unnamed pilot were rescued without injuries. They were shaken, but were recovered by the Gabbert brothers and authorities without issue.
“I called 911, tried to remain as calm as possible. It all turned positive. They were healthy, scared, nervous. It was a pretty crappy situation that turned good in the end. It was ‘right place, right time,’ I guess,” Gabbert said.
In an interview with Fox Sports, Hunter Hupp gave credit to Gabbert and his brothers for showing up.
“They were really an asset to helping us out, because we were the only ones out there for a while … They went out for a nice afternoon ride and just happened to come upon a stranded helicopter family,” Hupp said.
The family did not recognize Gabbert, who was initially content to remain anonymous, and who went on to attend the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game against the New York Rangers that night.
However, word got out. At the press conference, Gabbert mentioned a text he received Thursday night from Buccaneers GM Jason Licht asking, “Did you just save some people from a helicopter crash?”
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Major David Arthur called Gabbert a “citizen hero” for his efforts, and the police department was no less effusive.
“We often say that we cannot do our jobs well without the community and that we are safer, together. Yesterday was an amazing example of how teamwork, not only in the sports world but also in our hometown, is why our area is known as Champa Bay,” Tampa Bay Interim Police Chief Lee Bercaw said in a release.