‘Guardian Angel’ Saves Sailor After Accident On Lake Michigan

Posted at 10:45 PM, Jun 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-10 06:18:33-04

MUSKEGON, Mich. (June 9, 2014) — An experienced sailor is alive after a stranger came to his rescue.

David Carlson, 73, was on his 26-foot sailboat on Sunday afternoon when his was hit by a sail and thrown into the water. Within minutes, someone he now calls his guardian angel swooped in on a long board and helped keep him afloat until the Coast Guard arrived.

Carlson said that he had been on the boat for about eight hours before being tossed from the boat.

“I tried to put my arms up as high as I could and shout,” said Carlson. “Your voice carries better over water than you think sometimes. So, I was trying to shout as loud as I could.”

Carlson said he has enjoyed time on the water since he was a kid and is always careful when out on Lake Michigan. Sunday evening, he thought he was doing everything right until the sail swung and hit him in his chest. To his surprise, his safety harness wasn’t latched.

“As I’m going over backwards,” he said. “When I ended up in the water and saw my boat sailing away and I wasn’t tethered to the boat, I just couldn’t believe it.”

Carlson said that he tried to swim towards the vessel, but it was moving too fast.

At the same time, Chris Johnson was out on Lake Michigan at the same time and had seen Carlson earlier in the afternoon. When he saw the sailboat go past without Carlson on board, he knew something was wrong, he said.

“He was in the water, and so I sailed passed him and then came back around to get close to him and said, ‘Are you in trouble?'” Johnson recalled. “He said, ‘Yes, help. I’m in distress.’ I said, ‘Do you have a life jacket on?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t.'”

Johnson estimated he and Carlson were about a half mile off shore from Pere Marquette State Park in Muskegon.

Carlson said that the moment he saw Johnson, he knew he would survive.

“It was like heaven sent. I honestly, almost couldn’t believe it. It’s so hard to pick people out of the water. You know, there were white caps on the water at that time.”

 Johnson just happens to be a water safety expert who trains wind surfers and sailors at schools around Michigan.

“Pretty soon he would have passed out from just the cold water,” Johnson said. “So it was essential that to keep him up on the board, keep him talking, keep him calm, you know, tell him not to panic. We are going to make it through this.”

Carlson’s body remained partly in the water for about 45 minutes and his body temperature had dropped to 90 degrees before rescue crews arrived. The emergency room doctor said that he would have only survived about five more minutes in the water, Carlson recalled.

Carlson is a father of five and a grandfather of 10. He said he owes Johnson his life.

“As embarrassed as I am as ‘Safety Dave,’ to have failed to do some of the things that I would normally do that would protect me or people with me on my boat, I feel terrible about that,” said Carlson. “But I’m so grateful.”

Carlson said that he feels remarkably well on Monday, given what he had been through.

Carlson recovered his sailboat on Monday, and said it had little to no damage after drifting ashore.