Two weekend boating accidents underscored the danger of Lake Erie storms with one man drowning in 6-foot swells and four others being miraculously rescued.
A Sunday night accident saw a man clinging to his capsized sailboat for 12-hours before being rescued off Port Clinton. The other accident saw one man drown and three others rescued when their fishing boat capsized off Conneaut, 66 miles northeast of Cleveland.
The man clinging to the hull of the sailboat was spotted by people on a commercial fishing boat about 8 a.m. Monday, 4½ miles from shore, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The man was pulled aboard the fishing boat, then was transferred to a Coast Guard boat. The Coast Guard crew took the man, who had hypothermia, to a waiting ambulance in Port Clinton. WTVG Channel 13 reports the man was in good condition. His name was not released.
The man’s sailboat capsized during a storm around 8 p.m. Sunday. His decision to stay with his boat aided with him being spotted on Monday morning, according to the Coast Guard. “If your boat capsizes, try to climb on top of the hull or stay with the debris; which aids us in detecting you in the water,” the Coast Guard said.
A day earlier near Conneaut, a normal charter fishing trip turned into a life-saving mission around 9:45 a.m. Saturday as Corky Erdman and his four customers were fishing on Lake Erie.
The mission was successful for three Pennsylvania men, but a fourth perished after the life jacket he was wearing came loose.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources identified the drowning victim as Raymond Burns, 58, of New Kensington, Pa.
Thomas Burns, 58, of Enon Valley, Pa., and David Harris, 65, of New Kensington, were transported to UH Conneaut Medical Center and another victim was uninjured, the ODNR stated.
The recovery efforts were stopped on Sunday due to severe weather, but ODNR personnel were using a sonar scanner to assist in the recovery operations on Monday.
Erdman, 67, happened to see an object in the distance and eventually realized it was a capsized boat with three men hanging off the side. The man who drowned had become separated from the boat.
“We were out about seven or eight miles and we were trolling,” Erdman said. “I happened to look up and saw something white in the water. I saw somebody waving and he was about three quarters of a mile away. It hit me that it was a capsized boat.”
Erdman said he had his fishermen bring their poles back into the boat and they took off to see what was happening.
He said they found three men hanging to the side of a 21-foot boat.
“It took three passes,” Erdman said of their work to rescue the three men who had been in the water for an estimated 45 minutes. After the three men were rescued, they told Erdman there was a fourth man with a life preserver who had drifted away from the boat.
Erdman said his customers were very helpful in helping pull the men into the boat.
“I looked out my portal window and I saw him (the fourth man),” Erdman said.
He said they pulled close and threw him a life raft and he was totally unresponsive.
“I was circling to come back and pull him in when I saw his arm slip from the life jacket. I watched him go down about 15 feet,” he said.
Erdman then brought the three men to Snug Harbor Bait and Tackle and the two injured men were then transported to the hospital.
Erdman said if he had known of the man separated from the boat, he would have probably tried to rescue him first.
He said there were 6-foot swells on Saturday.
Erdman is not new to the rescue scene, having helped three boaters to safety after their vessel had problems in the early 1990s.
Erdman has been a charter captain for 34 years but has a great respect for the lake — having lost two cousins to swimming incidents on Lake Erie.
In addition to helping save six people on the lake, he understands being on the other end of a water rescue.
Erdman said he was swimming with family in a creek in Kane, Pa., when he was 11 years old and dropped off a ledge and couldn’t get back out.
“I couldn’t grab the ledge,” he said.
Out of nowhere a man appeared and pulled him from the water, Erdman said.
He said he will never forget the face of the man and what he was wearing will never be erased from his memory.
“I know what it feels like,” he said.
The Star Beacon in Ashtabula, Ohio, and Ohio Advanced Media contributed to this report.