Family of drowned boater hopes to save lives of others

  • Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Photo provided. These are the whistles to be distributed Saturday.


Keith Edward Sullivan of Emerald Isle, North Carolina drowned in the Sampit River off of Front Street earlier this year and this weekend his siblings will be honoring him by trying to save the lives of others.

Kenny Sullivan and his sisters Kelly Wyatt and Kim Oestereich will be in Georgetown Saturday distributing survival whistles that can be used by anyone who is in distress.

“We will never know the exact course of events that led to Keith’s death, but, we do believe that there is a chance that, had Keith worn a survival whistle at all times while on his boat, he may be alive today.

“What we plan to do is tell Keith’s story, encourage all boaters to always wear whistles while on the deck of a boat, and hand out the whistles,” explains Wyatt.

Keith Sullivan was last seen alive on Jan. 12. He had been living on his sail boat that been anchored between Front Street and Goat Island.

His body was found in the river Feb. 8 about 300 yards from where the boat was anchored.

Kenny Sullivan said when he arrived in Georgetown after receiving the call about his brother’s disappearance he knew the news was grim.

“It had rained for a couple of days and we found the battery on his boat was dead. His laptop had been left out. I knew something was wrong,” he said. He and life-long friend David Jones joined the Sheriff’s Office and Coast Guard as they searched the area.

Sullivan and Jones found some of Keith’s clothing on Goat Island.

He said the family feels Keith may have been trying to secure his dingy to his sailboat and fell into the river.

“We assume he made a desperate attempt to get back on the boat. The cold water quickly disorients you. It takes your breath away. Witnesses say they heard someone yelling for help,” Sullivan said. Because it was dark, Keith Sullivan could not be seen by other boaters or anyone on shore.

Sullivan said it appears his brother shed his clothing because they were weighing him down.

“We knew quickly this was going to be a recovery not a rescue,” Sullivan said. “We wanted to recover the body for many reasons. Closure is the common word used.

Keith Sullivan’s body was found by Ronnie Campbell – owner of Tow Boat U.S. Campbell had been friends with Sullivan for six years.

Whistle distribution

Sullivan said he and his sisters have hundreds of survival whistles, specially made with a picture of his brother, which they will hand out on Saturday.

“We have the belief that if Keith had a survival whistle he may have survived. The Coast Guard strongly suggests boaters keep a whistle on them at all times,” Sullivan said.

The whistles, Sullivan said, can be clipped to clothing or a life jacket. They can also be worn like a necklace with a lanyard.

He said the family is working with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the Coast Guard Auxillary in the whistle distribution.

“We want to show people how easy it is to wear the whistles. I know how easy it is to fall overboard. The whistles are very loud and lightweight. They attract attention to anyone needing help,” he said.

“We are doing this so what happened to our brother does not happen to anyone else.”

The family will set up by the Town Clock on Front Street beginning at about 10 a.m. Saturday for the whistle distribution.

“We plan to set up a table and speak with boaters, and others, on the waterfront,” Wyatt said.

Keith’s best friend from high school will share Keith’s story through a poem he has written just for the occasion.

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