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Potential Tragedy Avoided

The following is an email that we received recently from Sandra Gaylord. It describes what could have been a tragic situation and should serve as an additional reminder about boat ramp safety. …..Capt Matt

From a recent personal experience I would like to bring something to your attention because I don’t think it has been mentioned elsewhere.

On a recent weekend, my husband and I went to the lake with his sister and brother in-law, they had just purchased a brand new jet ski. They, being inexperienced boaters or jet skiers, asked us to go and help them learn how to put their jet ski in the water and teach them how to unload and load it. We loaded up our two jet skis and they took theirs and off we went to have fun at the lake.

My husband quit drinking about 10 years ago, and I don’t. So that had no factor in what was about to happen.We thought, and now I do say THOUGHT, we were very careful and cautious people.

My sister-in-law, her husband Scott, 4 year old son and three 3 year-old triplets were in their full-size custom ford van, ready to have some fun and lunch out at the lake.

We had decided early that we would put their new jet ski in the water first and walk Scott through the steps on getting it in the water. We had their van backed up to the water and the jet ski in the lake but still on the trailer. My husband told Scott to let him back up just a little more in the water and then he would be ready to start the jet ski. My husband undid the parking brake and backed the trailer a little further.

At this point, Scott yelled that the jet ski wouldn’t start. My husband jumped out of the van, closing the door behind him. As he approached Scott and the jet ski he thought he would only need to choke the jet ski to get it to start and then he would return to the van. The choke did not start the jet ski, something more was wrong.

Taking longer than he thought, my sister-in-law and the 4 children were still in the van. Her window, on the passenger side, was half way down and the others were closed except for the driver side window which was still 3/4 the way up. One of the triplets was in the driver seat playing with the steering wheel. My sister-in-law had turned the engine off after getting tired of hearing it run. However, she only turned the key to the auxiliary position. (You know… where you can still listen to the radio.)

As I was passing by the van, coming back out of the water from asking the guys if they used the key to turn on the jet ski, I heard a sound, a sound you never want to hear when you’re parked on an incline like that…that ratcheting sound of gears slipping. The van then started moving.

My son and his friend were back by the jet ski looking to see why it wouldn’t start. My husband yelled to them to get back and ran up to the van. He thought he could put his arm through the partially open window and put it back in park but his arm wouldn’t fit. He then attempted to open the door, but the van was so far down in the water the door wouldn’t budge.

The van was moving and people were running over to help hold the van but it was going into the water fast. My sister in-law couldn’t get it back into park. The kids were running up from the back of the van and her 4 year old told her that water was in the van. My husband yelled to get those kids out of there.

Luckily, a women passing by was right there and took one of the children from my sister-in-law through the half open window. My sister-in-law handed out another child, then another and then another.

As several strong men held on to the van and kept it from going any further in to the water another bystander told her son to get their truck and back it up in front of the van. He backed up the truck as I ran to our vehicle to get the tow strap. They did get it hooked up in time to pull it up out of the water before we lost a person we love.

When my sister-in-law opened the door of her van to get out on land, the amount of water that came out of the van was unreal. All I could do was stand there with my mouth open and look at all the water as it flowed out of the van.

To all who think they are careful, think again… My sister-in-law said all she could think about was how that Susan person on the news years ago drowned her children and how fast it went. It doesn’t take long to sink a vehicle.

Lessons learned?

  • Make sure the driver stays at the wheel.
  • Don’t let children play around the steering wheel.
  • Make sure that the parking brake is on.
  • Don’t allow passengers to sit unattended in the vehicle. Put them ashore prior to launching and pick them up after completing the launch.

We are very thankful to the people that helped because if it were not for them we would not have another day to enjoy on the lake. We all would be grieving the loss of those who were in the van.

P.S. There is a small county lake that we go to that is just right for people learning to ride. I am very thankful we didn’t take them there, because there would have been no one to help. Sandra L. Gaylord
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