Monday, July 12, 2010

Scuba Diver Recounts 10-hour Swim for Survival

An exhausting feat; luckily with a happy ending.

The Sheboygan County men who disappeared while diving on a Lake Michigan shipwreck made it back to shore on their own after battling the current for 10 hours, one of the divers said Tuesday.

David Rittmann, 29, of Adell, said he and Jamie Smallish, 28, of Beechwood, remain at Columbia St. Mary's Hospital Ozaukee in Mequon today, recovering from hypothermia and the physical strain of fighting the lake for their lives.

"We figured we were swimming close to around eight miles if not more, because we'd swim so far and the current would take us back out, then we'd go swim again," Rittmann said in a telephone interview from the hospital. "They're saying it's like we ran a marathon, and we're not marathon runners."

Rittmann and Smallish, former classmates at Ozaukee High School, hit the water about 1 p.m. Sunday to explore the Niagara, a side-wheel steamer that sunk a mile off Harrington Beach in 1856. Smallish had previously explored the wreck, which is in about 55 feet of water, but it was a first for Rittmann.

Rittmann said the men spent 20 minutes underwater before surfacing together next to his boat, which was moored above the wreck. They had taken off their flippers to climb aboard when the current tore them away.

By the time they gathered themselves, the men were out of sight of Rittmann's boat. Seeing no other option, they headed for shore.

"I didn't even know if we were going to make it or not," Rittmann said. "We just tried keeping a positive attitude. That's all we could do is keep on going."

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Can't help but wonder if they would have been better off with webbed scuba diving gloves.

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