Practice perfects real-life rescue
Last July, Mike Wiedel and I joined fellow Milwaukee Sail & Power Squadron members Dennis and Janet Brown aboard their 42-foot Sea Ray to watch an air show over Lake Michigan.
But the real excitement occurred after the show. As we headed back to the marina, we heard a woman’s panicked voice on the radio calling the Coast Guard for help.
“There is a swimmer in the water off Bradford Beach,” she said.
This didn’t seem like a reason to panic, but she explained that the swimmer came from her boat and couldn’t make it back.
After getting the boat’s location and other details, the Coast Guard dispatcher asked the woman if she could use the boat to pick up the swimmer. She said she couldn’t start the engine but noted that the swimmer was wearing a personal flotation device.
Dennis immediately altered course and increased speed: We were headed to the rescue.
Mike spotted the man and pointed him out to Dennis, who steered the boat toward him.
Mike, who’s also a Coast Guard Auxiliarist, got on the radio and told the Coast Guard we had spotted the victim and were going in for the rescue.
In the meantime, Janet donned a PFD and prepared to toss the lifeline while Dennis brought the boat within throwing range. Janet’s aim was perfect. The man grabbed the line, and I motioned for Dennis to throw the engines into neutral. Then, Janet and I pulled the man to the boat, lowered the ladder and got him safely aboard the swim platform.
Even though the temperature was in the 90s, the water was only 67 degrees. So I gave the victim towels to dry off and examined him. Mike, who had been giving the Coast Guard dispatcher a play-by-play, told the dispatcher that the man was safely aboard and doing fine.
The man said he’d taken his family and friends out to watch the air show. When the show ended, he put on a PFD and jumped in the lake to cool off. Unfortunately, the boat wasn’t anchored, and he didn’t take a line so he could be pulled back. Then, the current carried him away from the boat, and he realized he couldn’t swim back.
After returning the man to his boat, we remained on the scene until he started the engine and headed for the marina.
In retrospect, it was interesting that except for Mike talking to the Coast Guard, we didn’t speak until we brought the victim aboard. We all knew what to do because the four of us had practiced this exact rescue a year earlier, using a PFD as the victim. Of course, at the time, we had no idea the exercise would eventually pay off. – Kim Rutkowski
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