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VIDEO: A leap to safety

A planned solo Caribbean cruise ended abruptly earlier this week when a liveaboard sailor had to radio the Coast Guard in 10- to 12-foot seas and 30- to 35-mph winds off Islamorada, Fla.

Kevin Wilkinson, 59, of Marathon, Fla., a Vietnam veteran, told the Coast Guard early Tuesday morning that he was in distress aboard his 31-foot sailboat, a 1978 Bombay Clipper, according to KeysInfoNet.

An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew and a small-boat crew were sent to assist, but conditions did not allow them to bring Wilkinson safely aboard the vessel.

A rescue swimmer was lowered into the water to swim to the sailboat. Because of high winds and rough seas, the boat drifted away from the swimmer, and he was brought back aboard the helicopter, according to the Coast Guard.

The air crew worked with Wilkinson and formed a plan. Wearing a life jacket, Wilkinson jumped into the water, and a rescue swimmer was lowered to rescue him.

“One of the reasons we were able to rescue the man in distress was due to the fact he had a VHF-FM radio on board to contact the Coast Guard, and he was wearing a life jacket,” said Capt. Todd Lutes, chief of incident management for the Coast Guard 7th District in Miami.

Although he had only minor injuries, Wilkinson said the ordeal was devastating. He had planned a trip to the Caribbean after recently losing his job in the seawall business.

"That boat was my only asset and my home for 10 years," he told KeysInfoNet. "The last thing I wanted to do was step off into the ocean."



Giving Up: Why the Coast Guard Quits Looking

The Coast Guard uses a computer model — among other tools — to aid in the determination of whether it should continue searching for someone. Mario Vittone discusses the factors taken into account when calling off a search in this week’s Lifelines: Safety And Rescue At Sea.