Late summer, warm water and cell phone technology helped the Pierre Fire Department Rescue Squad as it fought a thunderstorm and waves to find two men hanging on to their tipped-over sailboat on Friday in the middle of giant Lake Oahe, said Fire Chief Ian Paul.
The Central South Dakota Dispatch Center in Pierre passed on a 911 call about 3:21 p.m., Friday, Aug. 9, from a person on shore who saw the sailboat turn over, said Paul on Monday.
The department’s two rescue boats were soon on their way, knowing the weather was too rough at the time to try launching into the deep.
“When the rains came, the visibility was very poor,” he said. “You couldn’t see the road in front of you.”
The person who saw the accident lost sight of the boat due to the driving rain in 35 mph winds, Paul said.
The problem then was to find the boat on the huge lake that is more than a mile wide and 200 feet deep.
“We deployed our rescue boats from two different locations, Corp Bay boat ramp and from Peoria Flats boat ramp, to heighten our advantage of locating the boat,” Paul said.
The two men, who are from Spearfish, were at one point able to get into their “dry box” on the 18-foot catamaran to get a working cell phone and call 911 themselves, Paul said.
“So dispatch had communication with them so we knew they were doing OK,” he said. “The water temperature is about 78 degrees so we knew we had plenty of time before any type of hypothermia set in. So we were just waiting for a break in the rain.”
The wind was blowing the boat generally to the west, Stanley County side.
But it still is a huge lake to find a little boat in waves and wind and rain, he said.
Another key element in finding them was the men’s cell phone.
The dispatch center was able to use the boaters’ cell phone pings off different towers to give the rescue squad “a general area where the cell phone was likely to be at,” Paul said. “So they were able to to do that; and give us a pretty solid area for us to move our search.”
“The waves did not hinder the rescue as much as the general (lack of) visibility from the rain,” he said. “The waves were not extremely bad. We have been out in worse waves. We just had to wait a bit longer to get it cleared off to get our boats out.”
The overturned boat with two men in the water holding on was found about 1.2 miles north of the West Short boat ramp still near the center of the lake, he said. It took about an hour to find them, Paul said.
“They were in good shape, in good spirits and very thankful we were able to get to them,” Paul said. “They were a little bit cold. But nothing a little heat inside a pickup couldn’t fix.”
Paul and two others ran the rescue from shore with three crew in one rescue boat and two in another.
He said he wasn’t sure if the men had been wearing life jackets
The rescue squad doesn’t do boat recovery, he said.
The two sailboaters hired Steamboat’s Inc., in Pierre to bring the boat in on Saturday, Paul said.