By Sheri Duff
Out for an afternoon boat ride in honor of their 19th anniversary a week ago Saturday, Lou and Rhonda Hanlon of Shelburne came upon four young adults, two women and two men, bobbing in the water 100 meters from shore. “We came around Rock Point near the rock walls in Burlington and found them in the water,” Rhonda said by phone after the incident. “At first we thought they were just swimmers among some debris. But we quickly realized that their boat had sunk and they had no life jackets, in fact they had no floatation devices of any kind. They were just hanging on for dear life.” Fortunately the foursome was in good hands.
Lou, a K35 Shelburne firefighter, a major in the State Guard with a 37-year career in the U.S. Army, and a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, flew into action. After hauling the four 20-somethings into the small motor boat meant for a maximum of five, Lou made a mayday call on his marine radio.
The perceptive couple knew that all four were not only in shock they had hypothermia as well. “They were freezing to the touch,” said Rhonda. “You could see the shock in their eyes,” Lou concurred.
“It was lucky we came upon those young people when we did,” Lou said. “It is illegal in the state of Vermont not to have one U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device on board for each individual on the boat. They didn’t have any. There’s a valuable lesson here, not only for young people, but for anyone boating on Lake Champlain. Because it’s impossible to anticipate everything that could happen it’s always best to be prepared. I shudder to think what might have happened if we weren’t there…”
The coast guard with a full crew and emergency lights flashing continued the Hanlon’s rescue efforts by transporting the four adults to shore where they were met by Emergency Medical Services. Hours later the group was on the road to recovery.
“Once we knew everyone was ok we were able to celebrate our anniversary and watch the sunset from the dock. Before they left, those young people came over to thank us,” Rhonda noted. “I’m so grateful that I survived Viet Nam that I try to give back to my community in any way I can,” said Lou. “I just want to make a difference.” Mission accomplished.