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Coast Guard Finally Rescues Grounded Sailor, 65, in Michigan

by Alex Johnson /  / Updated 

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The Coast Guard released video Wednesday of a five-plus-hour mission to rescue a 65-year-old woman whose sailboat ran aground during a Great Lakes sailing race.

The woman, who wasn't identified, was carried to shore on an island in the Straits of Mackinac — which separates the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan — after several failed attempts to airlift her from her stricken boat, the Coast Guard said. From there, she was hoisted into a rescue helicopter and taken to an airport where emergency workers were waiting to take her to a hospital for evaluation.

The ordeal occurred Tuesday during the annual Chicago to Mackinac Solo Sailing Challenge, a 287-mile race through the straits that connect lakes Michigan and Huron. The Coast Guard got a call about 4:30 a.m. ET from the skipper saying her 35-foot sailboat had become grounded near Round Island.

The first rescue boat on the scene couldn't reach her despite several attempts because of shallow surf and 3-foot seas. So the Coast Guard sent an air crew from Air Station Traverse City, which arrived at 7:50 a.m. But its helicopter developed mechanical problems and had to divert.

IMAGE: Coast Guard rescue
A Coast Guard air crew prepares to rescue a 65-year-old woman from her 35-foot sailing vessel Tuesday near Round Island, Michigan.COAST GUARD STATION ST. IGNACE

A second air crew arrived about 9:40 a.m., but the pilot decided it was too dangerous to pull the skipper up directly from her boat. So the chopper lowered a rescue swimmer who carried the woman through the 50-degree water to safety.

"This case may have had a different outcome had the skipper not been as prepared as she was," said Lt. Ludwig Gazvoda, a command duty officer at the Sector Sault Ste. Marie Command Center. "She had a working marine-band radio, as well as a life jacket and cold water gear."

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