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Pontooner saves the day before boat sinks on Lake Orion



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A Lake Orion resident and his niece were traveling about 90 mph according to the driver before his ten-foot long boat capsized on Lake Orion last week. The boat was bobbing in 10 to 15 feet water near a peninsula off Bellevue Island before a pontoon full of Clarkston men pulled the victims and boat out of the water. By Meg Peters (click for larger version)
June 11, 2014 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

Last week a 10-foot fiberglass race boat would have been the first boat of the season to sink to the bottom of Lake Orion had three men from the Clarkston area not saved the two occupants and the vessel.

"They (boat occupants) did exactly what they were supposed to do," Deputy Marine Pat Miles said. "Most people make the mistake of trying to swim to shore but for safety purposes they should remain with the watercraft until further help arrives."

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The driver of the nearly-sunken boat said he was going 90 mph with a 70 horse power outboard when the boat began to take on water. Moments later, at the tip of the peninsula off of Buena Vista Dr. on Bellevue Island, the boat capsized knocking a 21-year- old woman and the driver out of the boat.

A 21-year old fisherman on a pontoon boat caught the glint of the boat's underside reflecting on the water and realized it was a capsized boat and sped over to the rescue. Both victims climbed on, and the 10-foot boat was secured to the pontoon before being dragged to a private launch area off Buena Vista. It was pulled from the water with a truck.

If a boat is sinking, always make sure to put on a PFD (personal flotation device) Deputy Miles said, which should be in an easily accessible location on the watercraft.

  "I didn't even have time to grab the life jackets. They shot up to the front of the boat before we both fell off," the driver said.

They remained by the boat's side until climbing onto the rescue pontoon, which saved them according to the 21 year old woman. She said she took on "so much water when I flipped off the boat I didn't think I could make it back to the top."

"I have no idea how it started sinking," the driver said. "The plug is in, there are no visible leaks, I'm going to have to inspect it out of the water to see what happened. It might have just shaken loose."

The driver said he would not put that large of an outboard on the back of a ten-foot boat again.

Only a few days later Deputy Miles, along with Deputy Marine Dave Luke and Deputy Marine Jim Barriger were out on an Oakland County Sheriff's boat testing sonar equipment when they came across a 15-foot sunken vessel with their Marine Sonic side-scan sonar towfish.

The Marine Sonic side-scan sonar and VideoRay ROV (remotely operated vehicle) with the attached Blue View sonar was purchased with a grant by the Sheriff's office in 2008. Both pieces of equipment have been used to assist in the recovery of multiple drowning victims and evidence searches across Oakland County. They have been used in water 150-feet deep and under ice.

"The ultimate benefit is we can eliminate diver time in the water by locating the object being searched for first," Miles said. "That way everybody stays safer."

First deputies marked the general area of the sunken vessel with anchors and buoys.

Then they unleashed the towfish.

The Marine Sonic side-scan sonar's "towfish" is towed 30 to 150 feet behind the search vessel depending on water depth, and is connected by a cable to an outboard control unit and computer on the boat. It can scan an area the size of a football field in less than an hour and displays real time pictures of the lake bottom, records the view and pinpoints GPS data. It is used to first "drive" within visual camera distance of the object.

Deputy Luke operated the towfish with controls, scanning the area marked between the buoys for approximately 35 minutes before finding a clear image of the sunken vessel.

He then dropped in the VideoRay ROV.

The ROV looks like an in-ground pool vacuum unit but is far more complex, equipped with two cameras, horizontal and vertical thrusters, halogen lights, and a gripper that can clamp onto small objects up to 7 lbs. It was used to approach and record the sunken boat and the area surrounding it.

In a rescue situation, after the ROV cameras zero in on the object, divers follow the cable down to it and make the final surveillance and recovery if required.

Although deputies could not guess how old the boat was, which appeared to be an aluminum rowboat, it is only one of the many recreational vehicles more than likely resting at the bottom of Lake Orion. Deputy Miles said.

Before city dumps were available, many residents left objects such as toilets and bathtubs on the ice and let them melt into the lake as a way of disposal, OC Lieutenant Dan Toth said.

Other objects such as snowmobiles and small boats more than likely rest at the bottom floor.

"Drivers and passengers need to be aware of the laws of the lake," Miles said. "Boaters must travel counter clockwise along inland lakes, stay 100 feet away from docks and other moored vessels, and travel at a speed no higher than 40 miles per hour."   

It is unlawful to operate a vessel to exceed a no wake speed if within 100 feet of any shore, dock, raft, buoyed or occupied swimming area, or moored/anchored vessel except when picking up water skiers, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Boaters cannot operate at high speeds one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise or tow a person on water skis, a water sled, kite surfboard or other similar fashion.

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