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Teenager’s help critical to rescue

Coast Guard crews assisted 15 people aboard a grounded pontoon boat in the Grand River near Grand Haven, Mich., early Saturday morning.

Just after 1:15 a.m., a crew from Coast Guard Station Grand Haven on patrol received a radio call from Tow Boat US of an aground 16-foot pontoon boat on the Grand River near Lloyd’s Bayou with 15 people aboard. The pontoon boat had contacted Tow Boat US for assistance but then failed to respond to Tow Boat US calls.

The boat crew alerted watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, who contacted the people aboard the pontoon boat.

The watchstander spoke with a 13-year-old girl on board the grounded boat, who said that 13 of the 15 people aboard the boat were deaf, three had asthma and did not have their medication aboard and one person had recently been involved in a car accident and was also without their medication.

The vessel also had only two life jackets onboard and had been away from land since 5 p.m., Friday. With help from the girl, the Sector Lake Michigan watchstander directed the Tow Boat US vessel to the scene. Station Grand Haven also dispatched a crew to the area by land.

After arriving on the scene, Tow Boat US advised the Coast Guard that, due to water depth, they were unable to get close enough to the pontoon boat to tow it.
Station Grand Haven used their inflatable ice rescue skiff to ferry the passengers to the Tow Boat vessel, but could only take 3 people at a time. The boat crew transferred the 15 passengers to the Towboat US over the course of an hour. The passengers were then taken by Tow Boat US to the Holiday Inn Grand Haven, where they were met by emergency medical services.

The medical conditions of the people are unknown.

“Coast Guard rescuers combine communication skills, training and rescue techniques that are uncommon to summer operations to successfully bring everyone aboard the pontoon boat to safety,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Mattson, a coxswain and officer of the day at Station Grand Haven. “The assistance from the girl and from Tow Boat US were vital to the success of the rescue operation.”