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Wind-whipped reservoir rescue

Staff writer

A game warden, sheriff’s deputy, and Corps of Engineers employee teamed up to rescue two unidentified boaters in distress Sunday at Marion Reservoir.

One of two kayakers navigating choppy waters marooned himself on a small island off Durham Cove after his craft started taking on water, game warden Cody Morris said.

“One guy’s inflatable kayak popped just before they got to the island,” Morris said. “He was unable to make it back to shore.”

Morris said the island is more than a couple hundred yards offshore. He encountered the marooned man’s friend around 4 p.m. near Durham Cove’s boat ramp.

“He told me a buddy was bringing a flat-bottom boat,” Morris said. “It sounded like they had it figured out, but I gave them my cell phone number and told them to call me if they had any more trouble.”

Morris said he saw a truck with a flat-bottom boat on a trailer heading toward Durham Cove, and the marooned man’s friend embarked in his buddy’s boat not long after Morris left.

Morris said the man did not tell him the boat was not equipped with a motor.

“He had a rough time paddling,” Morris said. “He was fighting against strong winds. Those boats catch a lot of air.”

Morris said the northwest wind bungled the man’s rescue attempt by forcing him away from the island, southeast out into the reservoir, until he became stranded in deep water.

“Once he figured out he couldn’t make it to the island, he called and said the winds were giving him hell,” Morris said. “By this time it was pitch black.”

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat launched from Cottonwood Point. Morris and corps employee Jerald Waner picked up sheriff’s deputy Travis Wilson from Durham Cove.

“It was cold — very cold,” Wilson said. “Even dressed for it like we were, it was cold.”

Morris had been keeping in touch with the man on the flat-bottom boat via cell phone, but they lost contact. Before then, the man had told Morris that the boat was taking on water.

“At the time, we didn’t know if he had fallen in the water or if his cell just died,” Morris said.

The trio of rescuers headed due east from the boat ramp, and once they were about halfway out into the reservoir, Morris said they saw a small flicker of light.

Wilson used night vision goggles to locate the stranded boater.

Morris said the man was cold and a frustrated when they picked him up.

“He told me, ‘I’m fine, just don’t lose the boat,’” Morris said. “His feet were wet. The water was about ankle-deep inside the boat. It was a pretty flimsy boat.”

The rescuers then headed for the island. The marooned man had built a fire and rescuers asked him to build it up so they could spot him, Wilson said.

“EMS assessed them and neither was injured,” Morris said. “They were just happy to get back on dry land.”

Wilson believed one man may have been from Marion County and the other may have been from Florida. Neither man was wearing a lifejacket, he said.

Wilson said the incident was exactly why people are warned to stay of the water when there are high winds.

He offered advice to boaters.

“Don’t go on the lake, not even to a cove you think might be sheltered, when the wind is high,” Wilson said. “And always have a life jacket with you — always.”

Last modified Feb. 11, 2016

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