Lindale native shares experience of Coast Guard rescue mission

Lindale native shares experience of Coast Guard rescue mission
Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 11:06 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2022 at 10:36 PM CST

LINDALE, Texas (KLTV) - For Lindale native Travis Rhea, flying is in his blood.

“My dad was in the navy. He was a navy pilot, so that got me the bug to want to fly,” Rhea said.

“Travis’ whole life he has had inspiration from several members of our family starting with my grandfather, my uncles, his father, and our mother was also a flight attendant before he was born,” sister Joelene Yates said.

Although he always knew he wanted to fly, on Thursday, he was reminded why he wanted to become a U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant.

“It’s moments like this that ... this is why you join. Getting able to go out and search and save somebody’s life,” Rhea said.

As soon as he and his crew got to work on Thanksgiving, the Coast Guard got the call. “This one is definitely one that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Rhea said.

A 28-year-old on a Carnival cruise ship, fell overboard. He was stranded at sea for an estimated 15 hours, treading water without a floatation device.

After searching for 4 hours, Rhea said a tanker ship called the crew and said they had spotted somebody in the water. When the crew finally saw the man in the water, “You’re excited, but also focused on trying to do what we need to do quickly and safely so we can get him in the helicopter,” Rhea said.

The man survived as the team rescued and airlifted him. He was then brought to a Louisiana hospital. But, Travis credits the rescue to the hard work of all involved.

“A lot of people came together doing their job to make this happen, so it was pretty cool,” Rhea said.

Now, the rescue is getting national attention, many calling Travis and his team heroes.

“It’s very surreal. We always knew Travis was going places. He’s been an exceptional person his whole life,” sister Joelene Yates said.

Travis’ mother Noelene Rhea said the remarkable rescue reflects who he is. “We aren’t at all surprised in Travis’ accomplishments. He’s been one of those kids that knew what he wanted to do, he’s been a good boy, he always wanted to be a leader,” Noelene Rhea said. “He was an easy kid to raise and everything he did he put a 100% into it.”

In East Texas, the Lindale community is flooding Facebook, thanking him for his service.

Not only is Mark Spann Travis’ former Lindale High School Football coach, but he is also his father-in-law.

“Travis is one of those that even athletics would never give up. I mean he was so competitive, and you can picture him out there. He wasn’t going to stop until they found this guy. It’s kind of the way I can picture him.”

Patti Spann was his high school English teacher before his mother-in-law. “We’re just part of him now. We’ve been part of him for a long time, and so it makes us proud,” Spann said.

Proud, is exactly how Larry Rhea feels as his son followed closely in his footsteps. “He’s wearing the wings that I wore when I was in the navy,” Larry Rhea said.

When we asked what his son wearing his wings mean to him? “Oh, everything. I can’t say any more than that, that means everything.”

Travis Rhea (left) Navy flight training 2017 and Larry Rhea (right) in Navy flight training 1976.
Travis Rhea (left) Navy flight training 2017 and Larry Rhea (right) in Navy flight training 1976.(Travis Rhea)
Coast Guard helicopter
Coast Guard helicopter(KLTV)