7 rescued from boat sinking in Lake Michigan

May 30, 2008 9:16:53 PM PDT
Treacherous conditions Friday on Lake Michigan were apparently to blame for a boat sinking. Its occupants were pulled to safety. The lake rescue took place just before noon, about a mile north of Waukegan Harbor.

Seven people were in 41-degree water for nearly 45 minutes. It could have had deadly consequences.

The man identified as the boat captain is Jason Lee. He runs a charter fishing business out of Waukegan Harbor. He took six people out and very quickly they were in trouble. They were a little more than two miles off shore when storms rolled in. Fifty mph wind gusts churned up wicked waves, and within minutes, the boat was going down.

The Coast Guard used a helicopter, boat and rescue swimmers to pluck the seven people to safety.

"This came up so quickly that, by the time we realized what was happening and made a turn, it was almost too late. There were six or seven boats that weren't able to make it back in until it settled back down," said Jeremy Navratil, witness.

The boat is now down 50 feet on the floor of Lake Michigan. All seven people who were aboard remain hospitalized. A witness -- not paramedics -- told ABC7 that signs of hypothermia and shock were present, but all those rescued were talking and appeared to be OK.

"My life passed before my eyes, just like that" said Lee.

Captain Lee has been boating for most of his life. But he says he has never had a day like Friday.

He says the forecast for the lake called for mild weather and smooth sailing. The sudden storm caught him by surprise. It sent 12-foot waves crashing onto his 39-foot boat, shattering windows.

"It was like you see in the movies, a wall of water, forced me against the windows," said Lee.

As he felt the boat going down, Lee made sure his passengers were in life vests and told them to jump ship. He stayed with the boat, alerting the Coast Guard of their location. Then as the boat was going under, he was trapped.

"I took one last breath and then I just went under and thought that was it," Lee said.

Somehow he was able to pull himself free and then he and the other six people were floating with little to do but wait.

"It was really just the water temperature. And the Coast Guard getting them out and dry and getting them here was the best thing they could do," said Dr. Jeffrey Gordon, Vista Medical Center.

"They did everything that they were supposed to do and the outcome was good," said Petty Officer Rich Findlater, U.S. Coast Guard.

When his boat went down that's not all Lee lost. He lived on the boat. All of his possessions were onboard. But he is philosophical. He said all of those things can be replaced.


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