MINDEN, La. – A winter day on the lake took a chilling turn last month when an angler went overboard. And after struggling and talking to God, his prayers were answered.
That man, Webster Parish sheriff’s patrol Capt. Robbie Hayden, is alive to tell his story all because of two former strangers with whom he’s now formed an everlasting bond.
The day that Hayden almost saw his life come to an end happened on a cloudless Saturday on Lake Bistineau.
“I love to fish, been doing it since I was knee high. I grew up on this lake,” said Hayden.
The veteran sheriff’s deputy took a break from protecting others to test out his new boat. He was hoping to catch some catfish.
“I decided I was going to move so I had taken my life jacket off you know. When I killed my boat, I had dropped my phone, and I cranked my boat, and I reached down to get my phone and my life jacket, and when I did somehow I bumped the gas. And when I did it just went full throttle and it throwed me out,” said Hayden.
Hayden started treading water. When he looked up, he was shocked.
“My boat, it just kept going … and it started circling me,” said Hayden. “I would say five times it went around me.”
Hayden started thinking, could he swim to the boat and put it back in neutral?
“I said well, if it gets me under it, you know, the props going to get me,” said Hayden. He changed his mind.
“I was able to swim out of the circle, and I started swimming and I was looking for trees,” said Hayden. “There wasn’t a tree within probably 250 yards of me. So I picked me out a couple and I started swimming and my body gave out.”
Hayden is 56-years-old. He’s dealt with health problems.
“I went down, I went under, and I made my mind up. That was going to be the spot that, you know, I die. It was going to be the end of my life right there,” said Hayden.
But he fought back.
“Me and the Lord had a good talk, and I was able, I come back up, got me some more air, and I was able to tread for just a little bit longer,” said Hayden.
He went down again.
“The second time I went down, I figured that was going to be it,” said Hayden. “I remember looking up from under the water and seeing the sun and the blue sky, and I started thinking about my family, and how bad it was going to be, and I was going to miss them.”
Hayden started to think about his two uncles who drowned years ago.
“I said, ‘Lord please give me a little more strength.’ And when I came up that time, I wasn’t up just a few seconds and a man grabbed me,” said Hayden.
A father and son idling nearby spotted Hayden struggling.
“Those two men, they saved my life that day. I don’t know if they knew it at the time, but they did, they sure did,” said Hayden. Strangers at the right place at the right time.
“I thanked God for being in that boat. And, of course, I told them that they were God sent, and I thanked them as much as I could,” said Hayden.
But Hayden wanted to do something else. He surprised the two men, Steve Hammett and his stepson, Seth Basinger, at their church, First Baptist Church in Heflin.
“Fellas, I wanna thank y’all. Y’all saved my life. So I wanted to give y’all the book of life,” said Hayden on a recent Sunday when he honored with the presentation of Bibles.
Webster Parish Sheriff-elect Jason Parker also gave the men plaques recognizing them for saving Hayden from drowning.
Saving someone’s life was something Hammett and Basinger didn’t expect from that February day they just happened to notice the boat without anyone on it.
“We didn’t see him at all until we got really close. We could only see his head. He couldn’t raise his arms up at that point. I guess he was already too tired,” said Basinger.
That’s when Basinger became Hayden’s life line and roles reversed. For once, Hayden wasn’t protecting people. He was being saved by them.
“Everything from the beginning of the whole situation where we saw something may be wrong to the very end after we got his boat back, nothing could have gone any better,” said Hammett.
Both men said God sent them to Hayden that day; they usually fish somewhere else on the lake.
“Pretty apparent that it was God’s deal, not ours. That’s all that we want to make sure, that we don’t want the credit,” said Hammett.
“It’s by God’s grace that I’m here. It was God’s will that those men were there at that time. There’s no doubt in my mind that he sent them to me because we was total strangers. They didn’t know me and I didn’t know them, but we will know each other,” said Hayden.
Hammett said, “We’ll be tied to Mr. Hayden forever, you know, I mean that’s not something that we’re going to forget.”
Hayden said he’s going to keep fishing. But from now on he’s keeping the life jacket on.
Hammett and Basinger said they’ve been out on the water again with their life jackets on as well.