MARTIN AND ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. - The call came in as a plane crash in the water at the county line.
Lifeguards Mike Mannen and Mike Karol hopped on their Jet Ski and rushed north from their station at Jensen Beach.
They followed the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office helicopter, which was hovering over the crash off Nettles Island in St. Lucie County.
Though the area was outside their jurisdiction, the lifeguards wouldn't turn around. They were the first responders on the scene and someone needed to reach the two men still trapped in the plane below the water's surface.
Mannen, a free diver in his spare time, gave it a shot. He took a deep breath and dove down to the plane 15 to 20 feet below the surface.
He tried to free passenger James Doom, but he couldn't get the man out of the plane.
Mannen surfaced for air, then went down four more times.
"At some point, I had to decide that I wasn't allowed to drown," says Mannen. "My wife wouldn't be happy with me."
Mannen says both Doom and pilot Donald Hopkin were unconscious and possibly already dead.
But he had to try away.
Mannen says Saturday's crash highlights the importance of lifeguards, first responders for any emergency on the water.
Yet many agencies are cutting positions to save money.
After doing all he could at the crash, Mannen returned to his post at Jensen Beach.
It was crowded and there were rip currents. His beach needed him.
"We didn't want another tragedy to occur," he says.
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