By Shelley Grieshop
Three area men spent the night on Safety Island and were rescued early this morning after they became stranded in the middle of Grand Lake during a severe thunderstorm.
All three men escaped the overnight ordeal without injury. Rescued by midmorning were Shane D. Sawmiller, 28, and Mike A. Parker, 47, both of Celina, and Paul R. Lindeman, 28, St. Marys.
Although some of the information was still sketchy at press time today, the men apparently started out from a pier near the Eagles Lodge along state Route 703 at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Earlier in the day the three had been working on a 14-foot flat bottom motor boat and were reportedly taking it out for a nighttime fishing outing.
Officials from the Division of Watercraft say as the winds picked up the men likely had trouble guiding the boat. That's when they decided to head to the island for shelter.
"It sounds like they barely made it to Safety Island," said Craig Morton, Manager of the Grand Lake State Park. The men walked the boat around to the more protected side of the island and tried to tie the boat up, he said. They managed to pull their equipment from the johnboat before it became swamped by high waves, he added. Gasoline salvaged from the boat was used to keep a campfire going on the island most of the night, according to Brett Trump, area supervisor for the Watercraft Division.
A family member notified authorities early this morning about the missing men and several agencies sent searchers to the scene. At about 9:30 a.m. today, Kim Sheets of the Watercraft Division, and another boat of rescuers from the Mercer County Sheriff's office, spotted the men on the island.
"They were pretty happy to see us," Trump said.
The men were dressed in heavy overalls and appeared quite pleased to see family members when they arrived near the state park office about 30 minutes later. Many friends and family members greeted the men with hugs and tears as they quickly shed their wet over-clothing.
Trump said he'd like to take this opportunity, with boating season just around the corner, to remind visitors to the lake to wear life jackets at all times. Although the three men had life jackets with them, they were not wearing them, he said.
Safety Island, located nearly straight south from where the men began their ordeal Sunday night, has lived up to its name on more than once occasion, Morton said.
"Last year a man was stranded there all night. We got him the next day, too," Morton said.
The island is less than an acre wide due to shore erosion. Just a few trees line the rocky little island in the middle of Grand Lake, Morton said.
"Wish it was bigger," he said, adding the state is trying to secure funds to protect its shoreline.