SARASOTA, Fla. (July 6, 2015) – The rescue almost didn’t happen, but thankfully a USF Sarasota-Manatee lifeguard and two Sarasota police officers were patrolling nearby moments after a canoe overturned, sending a young man and woman into the choppy Gulf of Mexico.
The couple, in their 20s, were among the throngs gathered Saturday off Lido Key for the annual powerboat races.
“It was the right place at the right time,” Officer Michael Skinner, USF Sarasota-Manatee Spring Class of 2014, said of the rescue, which unfolded in seconds.
Skinner said he and Sgt. Richie Schwieterman were on a boat patrolling the shoreline when they noticed the couple’s canoe about 50 yards off-shore “slowly turn over” in the surf, sending the two overboard.
The officers rushed to help, thinking they might assist in righting the boat, but noticed the man’s right hand caught underneath. Despite this, the couple seemed fine, hardly worried, even handing over their cell phones and other items for safe-keeping.
“He made a statement, ‘During a time like this, the worst thing I can do is panic,’” Skinner said.
But moments later, the boat shifted, pulling the man under. Schwieterman jumped in to help.
Lifeguard Bryce Makowski, 19, a USF Sarasota-Manatee senior in the College of Business, arrived on a personal watercraft just as the man sank.
He was down only seconds, but apparently that was long enough to inhale a mouthful of water.
“His eyes got big and he immediately went unconscious,” Skinner said.
Schwieterman grabbed him to keep him from sinking further when the man’s hand came free. With Makowski’s help, he maneuvered him onto a sled attached to the back of Makowski’s Sea-Doo. Schwieterman climbed on board to keep the man from falling back into the water.
A minute later they were onshore where emergency personnel were waiting. The man woke up, coughing up sea water. A crowd of several hundred watched and applauded when it became apparent he was safe, Makowski said.
“It’s a good feeling to go home and know you made a difference,” said Makowski, serving his second summer season as a lifeguard.
Skinner, a criminology major and 10-year police veteran, said he was struck by the “randomness” of the events: how he and Schwieterman happened to be nearby when the canoe capsized, how the man’s hand suddenly became untangled and how Schwieterman and Makowski were able to quickly get him ashore on the Sea-Doo.
“Time slows down when things like that happen,” he said. “We thought we were going to help turn over a canoe … then seconds later it’s life or death. It was just random that we happened to be there.”