Reader's Digest US|October 2021
A gruesome accident nearly killed CARTER VISS. Healing from his injuries would be tough; forgiving the boat’s driver, even tougher.

BENEATH THE OCEAN’S surface waits a different world—quiet, full of wonder, shimmering with life. Carter Viss loved that world. It’s why he left Colorado to study marine biology at Palm Beach Atlantic University. It’s why he got a job at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, just up Highway 1 on Florida’s east coast. And it’s why he spent so much free time snorkeling in the reef system just a few hundred yards from the famous Breakers resort in Palm Beach.

This particular Thursday morning— November 28, 2019—was especially nice. It was Thanksgiving. Tourists and locals hit the beaches. The water was flat, the sky blue, and the underwater visibility spectacular. Carter, 25, and his coworker Andy Earl, 32, spent a couple of hours among the sharks, eels, turtles, octopuses, lionfish, and angelfish. They netted some small specimens for Carter’s personal collection. Finally, around noon, they began their journey back to shore.

To a diver underwater, outboard engines have a clear, unmistakable sound. Swimming on the surface, however, Carter didn’t hear the speedboat. It was just 50 feet away— and heading straight for him.

The Talley Girl was a white 36-footer with an aqua-colored hull. But the boat’s most striking feature was a trio of massive 400-horsepower Mercury outboard engines with five-blade propellers. All that power had it gliding over the water at 50 mph— much too fast with swimmers nearby.

Christine Raininger was sitting atop her paddleboard waving her hands, yelling, “Hey, slow down!” But the people on the boat—retired Goldman Sachs executive Daniel Stanton Sr.; his 30-year-old son, Daniel Jr.; his son-in-law; and two grandchildren—never heard her warnings over the roar of those engines.

The Talley Girl was almost on top of Carter by the time he saw it. He pulled desperately to one side, getting his head and upper torso out of the boat’s path before it ran him over, sending him tumbling and somersaulting. The propeller of the far-right engine had sliced his right forearm clean off, turning the water around him crimson.

This can’t be happening, Carter thought. It was too bizarre.

Inhaling seawater and his own blood, Carter realized he would drown if he didn’t swim. But he couldn’t swim. His right arm was gone. Both his legs were smashed, dangling uselessly beneath him, and his remaining hand was damaged. Bobbing for a second, he screamed for his life before slipping beneath the surface.

Andy Earl heard his friend’s cries. He swam toward Carter, reaching him at about the same time as Raininger, who had watched the horror unfold. While Earl kept Carter’s face out of the water, Raininger squeezed his upper arm to stem the blood flow, then fashioned a tourniquet from the cord on her paddleboard.

Meanwhile, on the Talley Girl, a frantic Stanton Jr. threw the engine into reverse, stopping alongside the stricken swimmer. Horrified, in shock, he helped Earl and Raininger load Carter onto the dive platform at the boat’s stern.

I’m not going to make it, Carter thought, pain searing through the adrenalin. No way I’m gonna make it.

“God is with us,” Earl reassured his friend, over and over, holding his hand as Talley Girl made for shore. “God is with us.” Carter, a devout Christian, felt his fear and panic melt away. In its place came total surrender, a kind of blissful acceptance. Dying felt as if he were diving again, this time into another beautifully peaceful realm.

AS IT TURNED OUT, the worst day of Carter’s life was not without things to be thankful for. Earl and Raininger being nearby, for one. The speedboat reversing so quickly. The first responders who waded into the ocean to meet Talley Girl. The ambulance that raced to St. Mary’s Medical Center. The 12-person critical-care team, already briefed and suited up, that received Carter in the trauma bay barely 20 minutes after the boat strike.

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