There's some audio I'll put up later.
4 missing Lake Erie fishermen found alive
BY TAMMY STABLES BATTAGLIA, ZLATI MEYER AND ROBIN ERB FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS
Update at 6:35
Four fisherman missing in the Lake Erie have been found alive near their capsized boat off Middle Sister Island in Lake Erie.
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Brandon Blackwell said Monroe County Sheriff's deputies found the men about 5:45 p.m.
Authorities identified the four as Douglas Whittaker, 76, of Eaton Rapids; Roy Letson, 52, of Charlotte; Vert, 64, of Lansing, and Ronnie Miller, 63, of Eaton Rapids. They left Sterling State Park in Monroe around 8 a.m. Thursday in a 19-foot Sylvan fishing boat, U.S. Coast Guard Commander Dave Beck said this morning.
David Zachman, whose stepfather, 64-year-old Larry Vert, was among the missing, said the U.S. Coast Guard called his mother about 6 p.m. to let her know the men were found alive.
The four Michigan men were last seen after leaving to fish for walleye about 8 a.m. Thursday.
The group, he said, made two critical decisions: They let loved ones know where they were going and when they'd return, and they stayed with their capsized vessel.
"It gives us something larger to look for," he said, referring to search crews. He said the men showed signs of hypothermia, but no other serious injuries. They are being taken to shore and will be examined.
It was still unclear, Blackwell said, why the boat capsized.
As of 3:30 p.m.
Search and rescue crews have been crisscrossing Lake Erie off Monroe by boat and plane since Thursday night in search of the fishermen.
Whittaker's daughter contacted the Coast Guard at roughly 10 p.m. Thursday when they hadn't heard from the men.
A plane, a helicopter and rescue boats from Monroe, Detroit, Canada and Toledo and Marblehead, Ohio, participated in the search, Coast Guard officials said.
Erma Whittaker, Douglas Whittaker's wife, said the men are avid fisherman; this trip, they were out for walleye.
"They were supposed to be back for dinner last night," she said.
Sharon Letson said this was husband Roy Letson's first fishing trip.
Vert, though, is an experienced angler, who enjoys fishing year-round.
"Every week, he goes fishing two days," his wife, Royalyn Vert, said. "He's a person who retired to go fishing."
Vert, a retired Lansing accountant, left with the three men about 8 a.m. Thursday. He and Whittaker, who owns the boat, know each other through church, said Zachman, 42, of Madison Heights.
Zachman and his wife, Bonnie, 40, arrived at the park about lunchtime with a picture of Vert, hoping other park visitors or boaters may recognize him and offer a lead to where the men were last seen.
"He loves fishing," Bonnie Zachman said. In fact, he was scheduled to take another fishing trip today with another friend, she said.
Royalyn Vert said she had become worried when her husband and the others didn't show up Thursday evening.
Rangers were alerted and found the men's boat trailer and vehicle at the boat launch, she said.
With the sun shining and a hum from rustling leaves and the water around them, Bonnie Zachman said she still had great hope.
"It'd be great if they walked up right here, while we're standing here," she said, standing near the dock where the men most likely had launched.
A C130 Hercules four-propeller search plane, an HH65 Dolphin helicopter, two 25-foot small response boats, a 41-foot utility boat, a 47-foot motor lifeboat and a 33-foot special purpose craft were used by the rescue crews.
"We don't know if they're out of range or battery life or what," Beck said. "Our hope is that they're tucked away somewhere and they're fine, we just haven't been able to find them."
According to Petty Officer Natasha Brooks, watch stander at Air Station Detroit, the first helicopter crew hunted for the men for an estimated eight hours Thursday night and had to refuel twice. They have since been relieved by a second team of searchers.
Beck said boaters should carry a marine radio for emergencies, and wear life jackets while boating. He said the men told people when they expected to return, but not where they expected to fish. "We know where they normally fish, but we don't know where they were intending to fish," he said.
It was unclear what may have happened, but boaters occasionally have mechanical problems and weather issues, and pull onto an island to wait for help, said park ranger Alan Wolfe.
"We hope for the best," he said. "We always do."
Waves yesterday, he said, were reported at 1 to 3 feet high in areas.
In fact, even as the holiday weekend began today, boaters were pulling into dock by 11 a.m. - having set out just after dawn on calm waters, but running into wind and waves a few hours later.
"It was flat as glass when we came out," said Lee Lubinski, a customer service representative from Garden City.
He'd launched about 7 a.m. from Sterling Park with his son, 29-year-old Todd Lubinski, a draftsman from Canton.
"The Great Lakes have their own weather system," Lee Lubinski said.
The pair, who had been fishing for walleye, pulled in their 15-foot ski boat while - behind them in the water - other boaters were heading for the docks.
"It's choppy," the elder Lubinski called to several boaters who had pulled into the parking lot, prompting them to leave.
The park is about 1,400 acres, and Wolfe said the boaters had filed a "float plan" with loved ones, letting them know where they were going on the 19-foot boat and when they'd return.
Their burgundy Chevy Suburban and boat trailer still sat in the parking lot this morning with a note from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office on it, asking them to contact authorities.