Video: South Haven officer rescues man after boat capsizes

Posted at 10:14 PM, Jul 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-10 22:14:57-04

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. -- A South Haven police officer is being credited with saving a man's life after his boat capsized.  It happened July 1 near the pier at North Beach and was all caught on camera.

The successful rescue happened because of Officer Michael Ledger's determination through gusting winds and stinging rain. If it wasn't for the life ring he threw to the man, the story may have had a deadly ending.

Realizing the man could go under any second, Ledger says he knew he had to act fast.

"He was definitely struggling," Ledger said. "He started taking really slow, big strokes and wasn't swimming with a purpose for the pier. You could tell he was tiring."

A strong storm front blew through South Haven July 1, leading to a call about a capsized boat near the North Pier.

"I had to shield my eyes, the rain was stinging my face, my legs, my arms," Ledger said.

Ledger could barely see the capsized boat through the rain.  Aaron Wightman, who was in town visiting family that day, was clinging to his 20-foot inflatable Zodiac boat.

"The wind had caught underneath the boat and pretty much just lifted the boat over top of me," Wightman said. "I couldn't believe what was happening. It felt like a slow motion event that took place."

The currents and waves at South Haven can be treacherous. After just seconds in that rough water, Wightman decided to swim for it, but says the 100 feet from the boat to the pier seemed like a mile.

"That was my vital mistake, I should have stayed on the boat," Wightman said. "I had just exhausted all my energy and couldn't keep my head above water anymore."

At that point, Officer Ledger grabbed a life ring from the pier and hurled it into the water.

"I threw it and the wind immediately slapped it right down into the water," Ledger said.

His next throw was the life-saving toss that let Wightman grab hold of the ring.

"It would have been a much worse scenario had the officer not been there," Wightman said. "I really feel I wouldn't have made it out of the water alive without him being there."

Climbing out of the water, Wightman, exhausted, collapsed on the pier.

"I said 'Are you okay?'" Ledger said. "And he said 'I'm fine, I'm exhausted. And if you hadn't thrown me the ring I would not have made it.'"

"I can't thank you enough for your service and helping me out of the water," Wightman said.