Wednesday, May 14th, 2008
Four New Bremen fishermen brave the stormy waves on Lake Erie
By Shelley Grieshop
A quiet day fishing on Lake Erie quickly turned into a dramatic boat rescue and an experience four New Bremen men aren't likely to forget.
The local men are credited with saving the lives of four Chicago-area fishermen whose boat capsized, knocking one of the occupants unconscious during a May 2 outing on the lake.
New Bremen resident Todd Thieman, 41, was operating his recreational fishing boat, the Eagle Eye, that Friday morning when a storm approached bringing high winds. The temperature was a brisk 59 degrees when he and his fishing crew - his father, Tom, and friends Bill Ritter and Max Fledderjohann - decided to leave the rocky waves on the open lake and steer the boat into calmer waters near South Bass Island.
It was about 11:20 a.m. when Thieman spotted a smaller boat about a quarter mile away, struggling to stay afloat in the turbulent water. The group immediately decided to leave the safety of the cove to see if they could help.
"Like anyone else would ... we wanted to help those guys," Fledderjohann told The Daily Standard.
In a flash the situation grew dire as a wave overtook the small boat and it capsized. Its occupants, who had entered the lake from the Detroit shoreline, were thrown into the frigid water. None of the men aboard reportedly were wearing life jackets.
One by one, the shivering and soaked victims were pulled aboard the Eagle Eye.
One of the men, a 44-year-old La Grange, Ill., resident (the names of the victims were not released by the U.S. Coast Guard) initially was trapped beneath the boat. He was unconscious and not breathing when the New Bremen men pulled him into their boat.
The local men still ponder the coincidence that Fledderjohann had taken a refresher CPR course just a few months earlier. The training kicked in and Fledderjohann performed the emergency resuscitation technique for nearly 10 minutes until he heard the rewarding sound of the man breathing on his own.
Thieman had earlier sent a distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard and a squad was waiting for the Eagle Eye as it docked along the shore of Put-in-Bay. The now conscious man was taken to Magruder Hospital in Port Clinton for treatment.
One of the victims called Thieman on Sunday to tell him the injured man - who easily could have drowned that blustery day - had recovered. Everyone was fine and very grateful, Thieman was told.
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer William Mitchell confirmed the events of the day and reiterated how impressed he was with the quick action of the rescuers.
"Our Coast Guard boat was dispatched from Marblehead but didn't make it to the scene in time," he said. "The Eagle Eye was closer so they swooped in and scooped them up."
Mitchell said he's sure the outcome would have been quite different if the New Bremen crew had not been in the area and willing to risk their own safety.
But the local men don't see themselves as heroes and were hesitant to share their story with the newspaper for fear of receiving attention they don't feel they deserve.
"We did what any person would do in that position," Fledderjohann said. "When people are in trouble, you do what you can."
After the ordeal that stormy day, the four spent a few hours on land to unwind. Later, they returned to the Eagle Eye and cruised back to their favorite fishing spot.
So how was the fishing that day?
"Well, we caught some fish but it could always be better," Fledderjohann said with a laugh.