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Boating crash leaves 2 dead, 2 missing as boating season begins

A marina water scene is depicted in this photo.
A marina water scene is depicted in this photo. with permission

The bodies of Amy Sandus, 33, and Paige Widmer, 16, were found on Thursday in two separate reef areas off Lake Erie shore after a boat they were in is believed to have crashed this week. The two men with them on the fishing trip, Brian Huff, 32, and Andrew Ross, 33, are still missing, according to an April 18 update from the Associated Press. And authorities continue to search the Ottawa County lake area in hopes of finding the men.

Amy and her niece Paige were both wearing life jackets when authorities pulled them from the water, but it is not known if the two men had life jackets on or not. Due to the time of the year and the fluctuating wind and water conditions, Gary Obermiller, the chief of the Division of Watercraft at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, told the Toledo Blade that it is imperative anyone boating in Lake Erie now (until the water reaches 70 degree temps) should be wearing a life jacket.

Unfortunately in Ms. Sandus and Ms. Widmer's case, the safety devices were not able to keep them from experiencing the ravaging effects of hypothermia, which can render a person incapable of even putting such a device on in as little as 10 minutes once they fall overboard, due to the extremely low water temperature. But wearing a life jacket could have saved their lives if someone had been able to reach them before hypothermia set in sometime later.

The group of four had been reported late in returning from their planned excursion by a family member at 2 a.m. on Thursday, who said they were expected back late Wednesday evening, which prompted the emergency personnel search that consisted of U.S. Coast Guard boats and helicopters, as well as other rescue crews.

Starting after the 2 a.m. family call came in on Thursday, it took authorities until approximately 6:30 a.m. to locate the capsized boat and until 9:30 a.m. to locate the first body from the boating accident. They found the second boating victim shortly thereafter. And now two men remain unaccounted for as of Friday morning.

If you plan to participate in boating activities this Spring at Lake Erie, please be mindful of the fact that water temperatures in that body of water at this time of year can be as low as 35 to 40 degrees, making hypothermia a grave concern if you are swept overboard for any reason.

All boaters are encouraged to wear life jackets and to dress warmly, and Ottawa County Sheriff Stephen Levorchick says that "in the event of a boat crash, the chance of survival increases exponentially for people who are wearing life jackets." But the exact amount of time someone can survive the frigid cold water temperatures varies and depends upon the person's weight, gender and what they are wearing at the time they hit the water, according to the chief of the Division of Watercraft at the ONDR.

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