Coast Guard credits life jacket, whistle for woman’s survival for 14 hours on Lake Erie

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PORT CLINTON, Ohio- A 57-year-old woman spent 14 terrifying hours in rough weather and choppy seas, after she was tossed from a jet ski into Lake Erie.

Rescuers, who searched for her through the night, credit the woman’s life jacket with keeping her alive.

"There were three jet skis they were travelling from Put-in-Bay back to the Portage River," said Chief Warrant Officer Bethannie Kittrell, commanding officer for the Marblehead Coast Guard Station.

At about 8 p.m. Sunday, the Coast Guard station received a call that a 57-year-old woman had fallen off her jet ski and disappeared in 5 to 6 foots waves on Lake Erie. Crews from Michigan, Canada, and local police departments joined the local Coast Guard to search by boat and by air.

"Around 1 a.m. in the morning, we did find the jet ski. She was not on the jet ski so we continued the search efforts," Kittrell said.

The commanding officer said just before 10 a.m. Monday, 14 hours after she fell into the water, the woman was found.

"A fishing boat coming out of the Portage River saw somebody in the water, waving her arms and they went over and they were able to pull her on board the boat," Kittrell said.

The Coast Guard said the woman had drifted about 4 and a half nautical miles through the night. They said because the woman was wearing a life jacket, zipped and buckled properly, she survived.

"She was extremely exhausted, dehydrated, extremely hypothermic, and they were able to return her to the Port Clinton police dock in the Portage River and get her to EMS and take her to the hospital from there," Kittrell said.

The woman also had a whistle with her, but her life jacket was black, which made it difficult to locate her. The Coast Guard recommended a bright colored vest, a strobe light or retro-reflective tape.

"If you're trying to put your life jacket on in an emergency situation, it's like trying to put your seatbelt on when you're going through a car crash," Kittrell said.

The woman, who remained in the hospital Monday night, has not been identified.

Rescue teams covered almost 700 square miles during their search.

The jet ski had an automatic shutoff, but the current swept it away from the woman faster than she could swim back to it. The Lake Erie water temperature was 79 degrees.

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