Three sailors died and one was treated for hypothermia following a failed man overboard rescue attempt in Lake Michigan on October 24, 2007.
The four sailors left the Columbia Yacht Club in downtown Chicago in a J/35 named Jason. Headed 12 miles south to Crowley’s Boatyard up the Calumet River, the four sailors were taking the boat to its winter lay-up yard. At the time of their departure, winds were reported to be 21 to 30 knots in the middle of the lake with wave heights between 7 and 9 feet.
When the crew reached the southern end of breakwater outside Calumet Harbor they attempted to douse their No. 3 jib, the only sail that they had up. They choose to douse the sail outside the breakwater, rather than duck inside for protection through a gap at the north end or tuck in around the south end of the wall. One of the crew, Alexander Childers, 38, went forward to pull the sail down and was thrown overboard. Although he was wearing a life jacket, he was not wearing a safety harness.
According to the Coast Guard, the owner, John Finn, 45, immediately turned the boat around in a maneuver to rescue Childers and then placed a call to the Coast Guard. The boat’s crew was able to reach Childers but they were unable to get him back on the boat as the sea state continued to worsen.
U.S. Coast Guard spokesman, Petty Officer Michael Arnold, Station Calumet, said that the Coast Guard arrived on the scene within minutes of Jason’s radio call. He said that they initially failed to locate Jason since they had been given the wrong location. The J/35, meanwhile was pushed into the breakwater and pounded by the waves. Because it was dark the Coast Guard had difficulty finding the boat and its crew. They were eventually spotted with a searchlight on the breakwater. About 45 minutes had passed since the original distress call.
The Coast Guard retrieved the men from the breakwater and they were taken to a local hospital. The owner John Finn, and crewmen Alexander Childers and Adam Kronen, 33 were all pronounced dead from drowning. The fourth crewman, Joseph Sunshine, 33 was treated for hypothermia and survived. Wreckage from Jason was found scattered along nearby beaches the following day.
At the time of the accident all of the men were wearing life jackets.