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Relatives: 2 boat victims helped save survivors' lives

August 7, 2010 8:49:11 PM PDT
New details emerged Saturday about the frightening hours after a boat drifted away from four people out for a late-night swim in Lake Michigan.One man died, and another is missing and feared drowned.

Relatives of the two women who survived say the young men may have helped save their lives.

James Shepherd, 21, was simply "Jamie" to those he knew. Relatives say he was the anchor of the family and had spent nearly his entire young life around boats. Rescue crews found his body in Lake Michigan Friday.

Saturday night, Shepherd and a high school classmate who remains missing -- 21-year-old Christopher Gary-- are being credited with trying to help to save the two who survived.

Shepherd was an experienced sailor, good enough that he had aspirations to compete in the Olympics. The Lincoln Park High School grad took his family's sailboat out with friends in the early hours of Friday morning hoping for a rare glimpse of the northern lights. At approximately 2 a.m., the group decided to go for a swim, leaving the 33-ft. boat unanchored.

As it drifted away, one of the young women who survived says Jamie tried to swim after the boat. It was the last time they saw him.

Christopher Gary remains missing. His parents were left Saturday to do the only thing they could: watch and wait.

"We're still hopeful and still prayerful. We're still hopeful," said cousin Greg Gary tearfully.

Greg Gary's emotions got the best of him as he recalled hearing about how his cousin showed one of the young women who survived how to float on her back.

"He can swim. He's not the strongest of swimmers, but he can swim, and so, he was helping her stay afloat. That helped her survive. She told the sergeant that's the reason why she was alive," Greg Gary said.

The other survivor reportedly told her mother that for 20 to 30 minutes, the three remaining friends could hear but not see each other in the darkness. A strong current kept them apart.

Four to five hours after they went into the lake, a fisherman came across the two women treading water and pulled them to safety.

Throughout the day Saturday, the Chicago Police Marine Unit, Coast Guard and Illinois Conservation Police teams scoured the water using side-sonar and a helicopter to search for Christopher Gary. They plan to continue looking all night.

"They're out there 24 hours a day, as are the Coast Guard, but that's just being lucky finding him in the dark. We find our best efforts during daylight hours," Sgt. Jim Van Vranken told ABC7 Chicago.

Members of the police marine unit say they will continue looking until they find Christopher Gary. For now, the search is focused approximately one mile off-shore between Northerly Island and McCormick Place.

The sailboat drifted all the way down to 63rd Street. So, that gives you a sense of the strength of the current out in Lake Michigan.


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