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Published: Saturday, 7/4/2009

4 boaters found clinging to craft in Lake Erie

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - Four boaters were found yesterday evening clinging to their capsized boat in Lake Erie near Middle Sister Island, nearly 20 hours after they were reported missing, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

After an extensive search involving as many as a dozen vessels and helicopters scouring the lake's entire western basin, Monroe County Sheriff's deputies located the capsized vessel and found the men in the water about 5:45 p.m.

The central Michigan men were identified as Roy Leston, 52, of Charlotte; Larry Vert, 64, of Lansing; Ronnie Miller, 63, of Eaton Rapids, and Douglas Whittaker, 76, of Eaton Rapids.

They had been last seen about 8 a.m. Thursday when they launched their 19-foot power boat from Sterling State Park for a fishing trip.

The men showed signs of hypothermia and were transported to Bolles Harbor, Mich., where they were treated by waiting emergency medical services. The water was 72 degrees with waves about two to four feet yesterday afternoon.

As of yesterday evening Coast Guard officials said they had not had a chance to talk to the men about what happened.

"Our first priority is making sure they get medical attention," said Lt. Wade Hedinger of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector in Detroit.

The U.S. Coast Guard, Canadian Coast Guard, and Monroe, Lucas and Ottawa County Sheriffs search-and-rescue teams had been looking for the fishermen since about 10 p.m. Thursday, when family reported them missing.

The boaters had filed a float plan and left information with family about where they were going, when they were launching, and when they expected to return.

"These boaters had done the right thing by filing a float plan," Lieutenant Hedinger said. "The men also stayed with their vessel, which aided in locating them."

Mr. Whittaker owns the 19-foot Sylvan Adventurer, gray with a blue stripe, in which the men were traveling. The 2009 model of that boat can hold a maximum of eight people and a total weight of 1,750 pounds.

Mr. Whitaker's wife, Irma Whittaker, had told the Coast Guard she last talked to her husband about noon Thursday and there were no signs of distress.

"Douglas is an avid boater and very mechanical," Ms. Whittaker said in a statement released by the Coast Guard while the search was still going on. "If there was trouble with the engine, he would be able to tackle that. They also had life jackets and a GPS on board."

A helicopter crew searched for about eight hours Thursday night and yesterday morning, refueling twice, and a second helicopter was in the air yesterday, according to the Coast Guard.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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