Coast Guard rescues 15

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (AP) – A middle-of-the-night cellphone conversation with a 13-year-old girl led the Coast Guard to a pontoon boat grounded in a western Michigan river, where crew members used an inflatable ice skiff to rescue 15 people, 13 of them deaf and four lacking medicine they needed, a spokesman said Sunday.

The pontoon, stranded for hours, had only two life jackets and no marine radio, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Yaw told The Associated Press from the agency’s Ninth District office in Cleveland.

The girl’s maturity and the Coast Guard members who used “outside-of-the-box thinking” to shuttle the passengers to safety three at a time with a craft designed for winter use after a salvage boat couldn’t reach the pontoon in shallow water helped bring the dangerous situation to a safe conclusion, Yaw said.

“To use the inflatable skiff, that was some excellent thinking on their part,” he said. “The 13-year-old stayed calm and collected through the situation.”

The Coast Guard declined to give the names, ages or hometowns of the people on the pontoon.

According to a Coast Guard statement, the crowded 16-foot boat went out on the river about 5 p.m. Friday. At some point, it became grounded in the river’s Lloyd’s Bayou, near Grand Haven and about five miles from Lake Michigan.

At about 1:15 a.m. Saturday, the private salvage boat Tow Boat US radioed the Coast Guard, saying it had gotten a call for help from the pontoon boat but wasn’t able to reach the caller again, the Coast Guard said.

A Coast Guard “watchstander” in Milwaukee called the girl’s cellphone and determined the pontoon’s location, Yaw said.

The tow boat headed to the scene but found the pontoon grounded in water too low for a direct rescue attempt, Yaw said.