Traverse City News and Events

Near Drowning, Then Coincidence, Luck, And A Rescue

May 29, 2015

On Memorial Day, Brad Reed, a 64-year old software developer (pictured), nearly drowned near the old coal dock on West Grand Traverse Bay. But coincidence and great luck were on his side.

 “If it weren’t for these people, I wouldn’t be here,” says Reed, who had gathered at the schooner Madeline yesterday with a group of men involved in his miraculous rescue.

Reed had launched his 10-foot fiberglass dinghy from Elmwood Township Park Monday afternoon to get to his boat near the Apache Trout Grill. On the way, he left the protected waters close to shore and ventured into the bay.

High winds blew up the waves, forcing the bow up and allowing water to pour into the stern of his dingy. Reed furiously bailed with a large coffee can, but water flooded his boat and sank it within minutes. Reed believes the water was about 48 degrees.

“First I was in shock,” recalls Reed. “Then I went underwater. Then when I came up, I worked to get my lungs cleared.” Reed believed he was mere minutes from deadly hypothermia.

“I thought about some people close to me. That’s the reason I fought instead of giving up,” he says.

Reed -- who wore a life jacket, jeans, tennis shoes, and a jacket -- tried to swim to shore 80 yards away, but knew it was futile. So he drifted back toward the Manitou, the historic schooner tied up to the old coal dock, hoping someone might see or hear him. “I yelled, ‘Help, help. Save me! I’m drowning!” he recalls.

And then his luck turned.

Matt Harrison, 24, had arrived only a week ago from Minnesota to work as a Manitou deckhand. At about 3:30pm, he was below deck and heard a “different sound” above the gusts of wind.

Harrison soon spied Reed waving his arms about 80 yards away. He sprinted across the parking lot to the Madeline, another docked schooner, and yelled to crew members for help.

Incredibly, just three hours earlier, the Madeline crew had rehearsed how to save a “man overboard” and treat hypothermia, says Madeline Captain Larry Good.

Two crew members—Doug Barnes and John Grebe—took the Madeline’s 12-foot dingy and motored to Reed. The remaining crew got equipment ready to hoist him up and treat him for hypothermia. Reed said by time the dingy had reached him, he had accepted his fate.

“Part of my brain and my legs were the only things that were working. At that point, I no longer felt any fear,” he said. “One of the guys said, ‘Hold on, I gotcha.’ He grabbed me by the arm with a grip of steel. I knew then they could save me, but I wasn’t able to help them a bit.”

The men covered him with a blanket and within minutes, delivered him to the Madeline crew, who called 9-1-1.

“Everyone knew their own job, and we worked like a piece of clockwork,” says Captain Larry Good.

By the time the Elmwood Fire Department arrived at 3:45pm, Reed was in a state of advanced hypothermia and barely conscious.
“The whole thing was just a freak of coincidences. That Matt overheard me over the weather through the walls. That they were just having a class and were ready is dumb luck. When I look at everything that was in place it’s amazing,” Reed says.

The Maritime Heritage Alliance holds crew annual training aboard the Madeline, a schooner that turns 25 this year. The Madeline is a reconstruction of a schooner built in 1845, said Rod Jones, MHA president. The crew trains before taking the Madeline on the festival circuit during the summer.

“Everybody who sails on the boat on a trip has to do a day-long training,” says Jones

He adds that this is the second time in recent history that MHA crew saved a person.

“A few years ago, they saved a kayaker who flipped over in early June when it was still cold. … They were kids, 16- and 17-year-olds. They were pretty proud of themselves, as they should be.”


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