SANILAC COUNTY (WJRT) (7/26/2019) - The U.S. Coast Guard credits two men planning ahead for saving their lives during a 16-hour ordeal after their boat capsized 14 miles offshore in Lake Huron.
The men ages 68 and 69 set out from Port Sanilac Harbor in an 18-foot Crestliner around 5:30 a.m. for a fishing trip. Around 11 p.m., a daughter of one of the men called 911 to report they were overdue to return.
The Coast Guard and Sanilac County Sheriff's Office Marine Patrol immediately launched a search. The Coast Guard sent boat crews from Harbor Beach and Port Huron, along with an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Detroit.
The sheriff's office spoke with the daughter on land, who said the men typically fish around a reef 22 miles offshore. Searchers centered their efforts around that area.
A Coast Guard helicopter found the men around 2:15 a.m. Friday about 14 miles offshore northeast of Port Sanilac Harbor. Their boat had capsized and both were sitting on the hull when the helicopter got overhead.
Both men were taken on board a Coast Guard boat. The helicopter used a basket to lift the 69-year-old. Once on board, he was airlifted to McLaren Port Huron hospital for treatment of hypothermia symptoms.
The man told Coast Guardsmen that he couldn't feel his arms or legs.
The Coast Guard boat returned the 68-year-old to shore, where a Sanilac EMS ambulance met him. He was treated and released at the scene for hypothermia symptoms.
“The joint effort between the Sanilac County Sheriff’s Office, the United States Coast Guard, Coast Guard Canada and Sanilac Central Dispatch undoubtedly saved the men from further peril or death,” said Sheriff Garry Biniecki. “They all should be commended publicly for their actions.”
The men told rescuers that they encountered rough water hours after they left the harbor. They planned to visit the reef 22 miles offshore, but stopped after about 6 miles.
Large waves caused water to come over the rear of the boat and it began taking on water. A large wave from the side caused the boat to capsize around 9:30 a.m.
Both men got thrown into the water and scurried onto the overturned hull, where they sat for about 16 hours awaiting rescue. They were wearing life jackets and stayed out of the 71-degree water, which the Coast Guard credits for saving their lives.
The men also had a waterproof flashlight, which they shined at the helicopter to help searchers pinpoint their location.