LAS VEGAS — Blaine Gabbert gave new meaning to the term “emergency quarterback.”
Gabbert and his two brothers were jet skiing on Hillsborough Bay near his Tampa home on Dec. 29, 2022, when they heard a pop that turned out to be the sound of a sinking combustion engine.
Unbeknownst to them, a helicopter carrying a pilot and a family of three on a sight-seeing tour made an emergency water landing, and the four passengers had just surfaced and were treading water when the fast-acting heroes arrived on scene.
“We just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Gabbert recalled Wednesday during preparations for Super Bowl 2024. “Fortunately for everybody involved, everything went as smoothly as possible. No one was injured.”
Gabbert, 34, is the Chiefs’ backup to Patrick Mahomes — not the No. 3 or so-called “emergency quarterback” in football jargon — and likely to stay in the shadows Sunday against the 49ers.
But he already came through in the most important moment of his life, at a time when he was backing up Tom Brady for the Buccaneers.
“We didn’t know what it was, but we got outside the marina and you could see the rotors in the water, which was not something you see normally,” Gabbert told The Post. “It almost looked like a crew rowing a boat. Luckily, we were relatively close and we ripped on over. You could see the oil slick. Things happened kind of fast, but we got them all out.”
The helicopter lost power after a loud bang, police said at the time.
Passenger Hunter Hupp told WFTS-TV that the cabin filled with water in less than 15 seconds and he thought he “was going to die in that helicopter.”
“You never know how you are going to react in a situation like that, but if you are a decent human being, you are going to help another human in trouble,” Gabbert said. “I was raised to be a good person. You don’t even really think about what’s going on. You just act and do. Instincts take over.”
Gabbert put two passengers on his jet ski, his brothers put one on theirs and the pilot grabbed a rope that the quarterback supplied until the sheriff’s marine boat joined the rescue operation “very, very quickly.”
By then, Gabbert had called 911 and was first to inform the operator that the passengers were safe.
The “surreal experience” still lives in Gabbert’s memory even though he lost contact with the Hupp family shortly thereafter.
The Post’s call to Hunter Hupp was not immediately returned.
As often as the Gabbert brothers are out in the bay, it was a bit of fate that day.
“We were lucky it was a nice day in December, so we were like, ‘Let’s go hang out,’ ” he said. “If it’s 50 degrees, we’re not out on the water.”
Gabbert drove the survivors to a nearby beach, where firefighters standing by provided medical attention. Police called the Gabberts’ heroism “a pretty impressive feat.”
“The faster you can get them warm and safe, the better,” Gabbert said. “I hope the family is doing well.”