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Good Samaritans save women from lake PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 06 September 2017 18:49

Vigilant Port marina tenants watch as boat ventures out on rough lake, then come to the rescue after vessel is washed onto rocks, women thrown overboard

   When Paul Fabian and fellow Port Washington marina tenants Dennis Armstrong and Ray Dishaw saw a family, including  a 2-year-old girl, leaving the marina aboard an old 26-foot powerboat Friday afternoon, they knew they better keep an eye on them.
    “The Denis Sullivan was coming into the harbor and it was rolling like crazy,” Fabian said of the 137-foot tall ship that was traveling from Milwaukee to Port. “It was rough out there.”
    Dishaw, a Saukville resident, said, “I was watching them leave the marina and I said, ‘Pauly, that little girl doesn’t have a life vest on.’”
    Fabian, a Minnesota resident who summers on his boat in Port Washington, said he was sure the family would get one look at the conditions outside the marina and turn around, but they continued on, leaving the safety of the harbor.
    “They got past the lighthouse and looked like they were trying to turn around. That’s when Ray (Dishaw) said, ‘Something’s wrong.’ They were going sideways,” Fabian said.
    The boat had lost power and was being washed toward rocks protecting the We Energies water intake adjoining the south breakwater.
    “We were watching them get closer and closer to the rocks and finally we said, ‘We can’t wait any longer. We have to go and help.’” Armstrong, a Port Washington resident, said.
    Armstrong, Dishaw and Fabian, who had been in contact with marina employees to make sure authorities knew about the emergency that was unfolding, headed out of the harbor aboard Fabian’s 24-foot Crestliner Sabre powerboat and sped to the boat in distress, which had washed up on the rocks by the time the rescuers reached them.
    BOAT LG“The boat was breaking up,” Armstrong said. “It was scary.”
    The owner of the boat, Vinton Hepke of Weyerhaeuser in northwest Wisconsin, had climbed off the boat onto the rocks and was apparently trying to tie the boat off, leaving his wife Penny, their daughter Sachel Wallis and her daughter Mary on the boat, Scott Ziegler, director of the Ozaukee County Emergency Management Department, said.
    Fabian maneuvered his boat close to the vessel on the rocks so Armstrong and Dishaw could throw lines to the two women on the boat and tow them off the rocks. That’s when a wave hit the foundering boat, pounding it into the rocks and knocking the two women into the rough water.
    “They had life jackets on, but they weren’t buckled, so when they hit the water, the jackets popped right off,” Armstrong said.
    Armstrong then threw a life ring to the women.
    “When I bought this boat, it came with a life ring so big it could have come off the Titanic,” Fabian said. “This was the first time it’s ever been used, and it certainly came in handy.
    “Dennis made a perfect throw.”
    Then men were able to get the two women onto Fabian’s boat and took them back to the marina.
    “They were pretty panicked, but they were OK,” Armstrong said.
    Fabian said, “It’s a good thing the water was really warm.”
    By this time, two Port Washington Fire Department boats and the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office rescue boat were on the scene. A fire department boat rescued the man and girl and the county boat pulled their badly damaged boat off the rocks and towed it to the marina with pumps running to keep it afloat. The propeller and drive unit had been torn off the boat, which had several holes and a large crack in it, Ziegler said.
    Fabian said that when Mrs. Hepke thanked the men for rescuing them, he couldn’t help but ask what they were doing on Lake Michigan in such rough conditions.
    “She said her granddaughter wanted to go for a boat ride,” he said. “Really? A boat ride in conditions like that?
    “It was a really bad situation.”
    Dishaw said the incident raises questions about how authorities are notified about emergencies on Lake Michigan. He said that one of the family members on the boat contacted the marina to report they were in trouble. Following the protocol of the sheriff’s office, a marina employee instructed the Hepkes to call 911 and report their emergency to a dispatcher.
    “If the marina could have hit the button right away and reported the emergency, valuable time could have been saved and maybe we would have been just towing a boat back to the harbor rather than trying to get it off the rocks,” Dishaw said.
    But Ziegler said the 911 protocol makes sense and gives rescuers a better chance of finding boaters in distress. In this case, the Hepkes called the marina on the VHF marina radio. The marina employee who answered the call did the right thing by ensuring they had a working cell phone on the boat, then instructing them to call 911, he said.
    When a 911 call is made from a cell phone, the location of that call is automatically transmitted to the dispatch center, eliminating the chance for human error in reporting positions, Ziegler said. In addition, when a boater in distress calls 911, a dispatcher can stay on the phone with the person to monitor the situation and relay information to rescuers, he said.
    “The first option is to call 911 because that gives an exact GPS location,” Ziegler said. “Often when we ask people to give us their location, they do it using landmarks, and they’re consistently wrong.”
    The protocol, Ziegler noted, was critical in saving three men from 50-degree Lake Michigan water after their 17-foot boat capsized more than two miles off Port Washington in June. One of the men, who was clinging to the overturned boat in rough conditions, was able to able to call 911. Although a dispatcher had trouble communicating with the man, the cell phone transmitted the location of the boat to the dispatch center and rescuers were able to find it before the men succumbed to hypothermia, Ziegler said.

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