When Survival is a Little Too Close to Home

This story came as a bit of a shock if not a sobering reminder that survival isn’t always about being stranded miles and miles from civilisation…it can happen anywhere, even 12 miles from your own home. But survival situations don’t just “happen”…the fact remains that this party was not prepared for their endeavours, nor were proper precautions made beforehand.

On the 8th of June, three young adults [Sarah Kowats, 21, Shane Barrese, 28, and Wayne Pelham, 26] went out for a fishing trip on Lake Lillinonah in Newtown, Connecticut at around 5 in the evening. The boat, owned by Sarah, was a small aluminum craft fitted with an outboard motor. The three were repositioning themselves on the boat when one end of the boat went below the surface, causing water to flood in until the boat capsized. None of them were wearing life jackets.

Sarah and Wayne managed to swim to the shore of Paugusset State Forest, but Shane, Sarah’s boyfriend, struggled because his boots were weighing him down, and he caught his arm in a fishing line. Both Wayne and Sarah pulled Shane to shore, where he passed-out from panicking and swallowing too much water. After numerous failed attempts to revive Shane, they strapped him to a tree and quickly moved into the nearly 2000 acre forest to seek aid. After only a short while, a thunderstorm rolled in – it took them 5 hours to find their way out.

“We screamed for help and no one heard us,” Kowats said. “We were climbing rocks in the middle of the woods. There were no trails… We were scared, afraid to run into animals.”

Meanwhile, Shane awoke much later to a deserted, nightly shoreline. Through his fright and confusion, he decided it would be better to stay and wait on the shore.

“I was in a panic,” he said. “I kind of stumbled around, walked barefoot for a while… I was freezing cold, so I laid down, covered myself with leaves to try to keep myself warm.“

After discovering a trail and finding their way out, Sarah and Wayne headed towards Hanover Road, where they flagged down a policeman on patrol. The search and rescue operation had begun.

Shane was found by a Newtown Underwater Search and Rescue boat at 02:40 in the morning Tuesday. Sarah was badly bruised and suffered two sprained ankles. All three were treated at Danbury Hospital.

The boat remained missing, and the three lost their personal belongings…cellphones, keys, spare clothes, wallets, fishing kit, and a cooler.

Michael McCarthy, chief of operations at the Newtown Underwater Search and Rescue, stated that there are a number of ways to prevent such accidents from happening. Safety equipment is a requirement on all vessels – life jackets, floatation devices, etc. A waterproof box is also a necessity for stowing important belongings, such as cellphones or radios, so that help can be contacted in case of an emergency.

Shane’s decision to stay on the shore doubtless saved hours of time and energy of his rescuers. “We were very fortunate he didn’t wander very far away from the water,” McCarthy noted.

On Thursday the 11th, Sarah Kowats received two tickets for insufficient safety gear and reckless boating.

More on this story from the Connecticut Post and News Times.

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