Canadian canoeist, encumbered by ice, prompts international rescue

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DETROIT -- A rescue basket from an HH-65 helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Detroit sits filled with ice, April 5, 2011. An aircrew from Air Station Detroit responded to the report of a Canadian citizen in distress and attempted to lift him out of the water using their rescue basket, before lowering their rescue swimmer into the water. (U.S. Coast Guard photo).

As temperatures rise and the winter turns to spring, the ice covering the Great Lakes continues to retreat. Soon, millions of U.S. and Canadian boaters will get their boats ready to head out onto the water, and now is the time they should ensure they have the right equipment.

There are more than four million registered recreational boats in the U.S. states the border the Great Lakes, more than one million Canadian boats, and an unknown number of paddlecraft, since most states do not require them to be registered.

During these transitional months, air temperatures may be on the rise, but the average water temperatures around the Great Lakes Basin are still at levels that can be extremely dangerous to those who enter the water, whether on purpose or unexpectedly.

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DETROIT -- Ken Glendining and his dog Grace sit off shore in a canoe near Kettle Point, Ontario, April 5, 2011. Glendining, a Canadian citizen, was in distress when he called 911 and an HH-65 from Coast Guard Air Station Detroit hoisted him and his dog to safety. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Rumbold).

Tuesday night, Coast Guard Air Station Detroit, Mich., was notified by Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre Trenton, Ontario, of a Canadian man in trouble near Kettle Point, Ontario. Ken Glendining was offshore in a canoe with his dog Grace, and called 911 on his cell phone when ice prevented him from being able to make it back to shore.

The Canadian coast guard ship Samuel Risley headed toward Glendining, but faced a more than two-hour transit to his position. The unique relationship shared by the U.S. Coast Guard and our Canadian agencies on the Great Lakes allows search and rescue assets from both nations to respond to these reports together. As a result of that relationship, a rescue helicopter crew from the air station launched to respond.

When the aircrew arrived, it attempted to get Glendining and Grace aboard using the rescue basket, but large chunks of ice in the water kept submerging it, forcing the aircrew to change their tactics and find another way to get them to safety. Petty Officer 3rd Class Luke Lohn, on his first flight as a qualified rescue flight mechanic, lowered the rescue swimmer, Petty Officer 1st Class Craig Miller, down into the icy water.

Miller wrapped the helicopter’s rescue sling around Glendining, who held Grace in his arms and hoisted them into the air. The aircrew took the pair to Sarnia, Ontario, where they were met by emergency medical technicians.

Luckily, Glendining was in range of a cell phone tower and was able to call for help; cell phones should be considered a last line of defense for emergency communications. Boaters are advised to use a marine band radio, which allows anyone listening to hear a distress call. Unlike cell phones, marine band radios are typically waterproof and are a more reliable means of communication.

“No boat is too small for a marine radio,” said Frank Jennings Jr., recreational boating safety program manager for the Ninth Coast Guard District. “And, if the boating budget allows, two marine radios – one installed and one waterproof hand-held attached to your PFD – are even better.  When it comes to communications off shore; redundancy is a good thing.”

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DETROIT -- Aircrew members from Coast Guard Air Station Detroit stand with Ken Glendining and his dog Grace, April 5, 2011. Glendining, a Canadian citizen, was in distress while canoeing near Kettle Point, Ontario when he called 911 and an HH-65 from Air Station Detroit hoisted him and his dog to safety. (U.S. Coast Guard photo).

The Coast Guard advises all boaters to file float plans before going out on the water. Plans should explain the intended destination or route and also what time you are expected to return. These should be left with someone on shore so that in the event you don’t return, that person can notify the proper authorities. Mariners are also advised to check the weather conditions before boating. Strong winds can carry away swimmers or capsize/swamp small boats. Also, air temperatures rise at a much faster rate than water. While air temperatures may feel comfortable, without the proper safety equipment a person who enters the water faces a much higher risk of hypothermia.

This is also the second time in three weeks that the Coast Guard has rescued a dog on the Great Lakes. To read the story of the Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay’s rescue of a Great Dane in Lake Huron Cut, click here.