The Anna May headed out of Hatteras Inlet at 2:30 a.m. the morning of December 9, 1931. She was loaded with fish and headed for Hampton, VA. Captain of the 70-foot trawler was 22 year old Ralph Carmine. His crew consisted of his father, J.E. Carmine, Sr.; a brother, J.E. Carmine, Jr.; his brother-in-law, Rideout Lewis; and a man named M.R. Johnson.
Long before they passed out of Hatteras Bight the trawler’s gasoline engine stopped and for the next hour and a half the crewmen took turns at trying to remedy the problem, while the Anna May drifted slowly toward Diamond Shoals. Captain Carmine recalled that all 5 men were bent over the engine box when the vessel lurched to a stop and they looked up to find themselves in the midst of towering breakers. Their vessel swamped, filled with water and settled on the shoal, leaving only her single mast above the breakers. All five crewmen—thinly clad and without distress signals and life jackets—clung to the swaying mast in the darkness above the wild surf of Diamond Shoals.
Soon after dawn the next morning, the Cape Hatteras lookout station sighted the trawler’s mast and the men hanging to it. Repeated attempts were made to launch a surfboat from the beach, but it was thrown back each time. At two o’clock that afternoon a mist settled over the shoals, completely obscuring what remained of the craft. By then the power lifeboat from the Hatteras station had finally managed to pass through the inshore breakers but on reaching the shoals found no trace of the trawler. Newspaper headlines the following day reported: “Fishing Trawler Is Believed Lost In Hatteras Quicksands, Entire Crew Going to Deaths.”
As the sky brightened the next morning, Coast Guard binoculars were trained on the spot where the wreck had last been seen. A vague shape slowly came into view of a tall thin pole sticking up out of the breakers. The mast still stood and men still clung to it.
A picked crew under Keeper B.R. Balance of Cape Hatteras launched a surfboat from the beach there at the point. The crew of Hatteras Inlet Station, under Keeper Levene Midgett, boarded their power boat once more and moved out through the inlet. Meanwhile, after 30 hours on the constantly swaying mast, Captain Carmine and his four crewmen had about given up hope. Soaked to the skin, nearly frozen by the December cold, they began that second day with little thought of being saved when suddenly two boats appeared nearby. As they shouted and waved in an attempt to attract attention the mast swayed far over to one side and dipped lower and lower until it toppled into the surf. Without hesitation both Balance and Midgett turned their boats toward the breakers and pressed on into the midst of the tumultuous sea.
“We came down once between two giant waves, striking the bare sand,” Midgett said. But this did not deter the surfmen: Midgett’s boat, larger and faster, swept in, picked up one man, then a second, finally a third; Balance’s surfboat was right beside, reached the other two, turned about even as they were dragged aboard; and all five crewmen were saved.