Guest post: A celebration of Independence & success

>By PA3 Brandon Blackwell, Ninth District Public Affairs

As America celebrated its independence, mariners in the Great Lakes celebrated by taking to the water in what turned out to be one of the year’s busiest weekends for the Coast Guard here.

(Left: A Coast Guard crew from Station Marblehead, Ohio, enforce a safety zone on Lake Erie for a local fireworks show July 4, 2009. U.S. Coast Guard photo)

In all, the Coast Guard responded to 163 incidents over the holiday weekend, a 10-percent increase from the same time last year. During those incidents, the Coast Guard saved 36 lives and assisted 239 others.

The weekend’s biggest story, receiving coverage from numerous local and national media outlets, was the successful rescue of four overdue mariners. After a colossal search, which began Thursday night and continued until early Friday evening, the four mariners were located by the Monroe County, Mich., Sheriffs Department. Monroe County was part of the search-and-rescue team comprised of three county sheriffs departments, Coast Guard Stations Toledo, Ohio, and Marblehead, Ohio, Coast Guard Air Station Detroit, air and sea assets from the Canadian Coast Guard and air support from the First Coast Guard District.

A sigh of relief was followed by a lingering sense of accomplishment after the four men were reported alive. Cheers were often heard as the news was passed between agencies, command centers and the families of the missing mariners.

“I can’t thank you enough,” said Irma Whittaker, wife of Douglas Whittaker, one of the men who were rescued, after being told her husband had been found alive. “We owe you so much.”

The men were found near Middle Sister Island in Lake Erie. Their vessel had capsized during a fishing trip and the four men clung to their 19-foot fishing boat for nearly 24-hours.

Three of the four men were wearing their life jackets when located, showing that the Coast Guard’s continuous effort to promote safe boating practices is reaching mariners and helping to save lives.

“We were so lucky that we were found,” said Mr. Whittaker. “One more night out there and I don’t think we would have made it.”

Mr. Whittaker said that the media had been calling him non-stop since his rescue.

“I’m happy to be home with my family now, but I’m 76-years-old,” said Mr. Whittaker, laughing. “I really just want to get some sleep.”

The weekend was busy, but it yielded great results. Lives were saved and people were assisted, enabling Great Lakes mariners to enjoy the Fourth of July weekend with a sense of comfort, while the Guardians of the Great Lakes remained Semper Paratus.

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