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Man leaps from boat just before crash

Its steering disabled, the powerboat was heading for a bridge piling

The incident seems like it was ripped from a Hollywood movie script, but it was all too real for Mike DeGuise, who leapt to safety from his runaway powerboat.

The 38-year-old Saginaw, Mich., man was on the Saginaw River July 18 when the steering cable on his 16-foot Cobra apparently snapped. DeGuise was traveling about 25 mph and was some 20 feet from Saginaw’s Rust Street bridge when he realized something was wrong.

“The boat started to veer toward the left,” he says. “I tried to steer it back on course, but it wouldn’t turn. All I could see was the cement piling coming toward me.”

DeGuise had visions of hitting the bridge, with the boat bursting into flames — just like in an action movie. He jumped into the water when he was about 10 feet from the bridge. The boat passed over him, and DeGuise, who is 6 feet, 3 inches, dove deeper to avoid the propeller.

“I saw the boat go by,” he says. “If I had a life jacket on I would have been run over by the boat.”

DeGuise heard the boat hit the bridge and felt the vibration as he struggled to the surface. He started treading water and surveyed his surroundings, then noticed that his unmanned vessel was heading straight toward him. Apparently the boat had spun around after bumping the bridge several times.

“I was dumbfounded,” says DeGuise.

He says he swam about 25 yards to get out of its way when he heard the 65-hp Mercury outboard sputter and die. DeGuise scanned the area for another boat, but didn’t see one. He was in the middle of the river, fighting a strong current and losing strength.

“All of a sudden my whole body went numb,” says DeGuise.

As he slipped under water, he recalls thinking to himself, Uh oh, this is it. He thought about his father, Earle DeGuise, a former Saginaw city councilman and longtime boater, who died in 2000.

“I said ‘Dad, don’t let me die,’ ” he says.

DeGuise says he started kicking, finally reaching the surface. As his body started to slip back under he says he started swimming as hard as he could. “I used to be a swimmer in school, but I haven’t kept up with it,” says DeGuise. “I was huffing and puffing.”

As he neared shore, he felt the river bottom and dropped to his knees. A couple who apparently had witnessed the incident had called 911, and help was on the way.

“I guess I was pretty lucky. I wasn’t going to die that day,” says DeGuise, who received minor injuries.

He says he was using the boat the week before for water skiing and didn’t notice any problems. He also had checked all the systems, and everything seemed fine. He says he was glad that no one else was aboard when he lost steering.

Some people have asked why he didn’t just shut the engine off instead of jumping out of the boat. It’s a question that nags him.

“Why didn’t I shut the boat off? No time to think,” says DeGuise. “I just had to react. If I had to do the same thing over again I’d do it. I’m just lucky I had enough determination to stay alive.”