With no life jacket, the outlook was pretty bleak Sunday for single-handed sailor Paul Epp Jr., 47, of Welland,Ontario. After being knocked overboard when the sail boom of his vessel hit his head, he proceeded to tread water in 66-degree water for 12 hours before he was rescued by authorities, according to The Buffalo News.
Epp had set sail from WellandCanal in Port Colborne,Ontario, just before 6:30 p.m. Saturday and was heading south when he fell overboard about six-and-a-half miles from the coast sometime between 6:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., when he attempted to swim back to the coast, according to the report. No details were given on the size of the sailboat. He managed to keep his head above water until 11:45 a.m. the following day when the U.S. and Canadian coast guards rescued him.
“It’s a fantastic outcome,” said James Cox, an operational controller for the Coast Guard in Buffalo,N.Y., in the report. “We’re lucky he was able to stay afloat for that long.”
The authorities began searching the area early that morning when the ChautauquaCounty sheriff’s deputies saw the sailboat traveling south sans skipper when they were patrolling the lake. An anonymous good Samaritan spotted Epp clinging to the breakwall off Port Colborne around 11:45 a.m. and tried to reach him to no avail. However, the Coast Guard spotted the struggle and rushed to the scene. The U.S. rescue swimmer tried to grab him, but didn’t succeed. Finally, a Canadian helicopter landed on the breakwall and a crewman pulled Epp out of the water. He was flown to a nearby hospital for treatment of mild hypothermia, according to the report.
The search totaled 11-and-a-half hours and covered 400 square miles of Lake Erie. The authorities believed they passed over Epp during the search, but could not see him because of the dark.
— Elizabeth Ellis