UPDATE: Men Spent 4 Hours in Water, Clinging to Breakwall Before Rescue
Changes in weather caused two men in their twenties to be stranded at the Port Washington lighthouse for hours, but another change aided the rescuers.
Two men in their twenties were rescued Monday morning after being trapped on the breakwall and underneath the Port Washington lighthouse on Lake Michigan, Port Washington Fire Chief Mark Mitchell said.
The men arrived at the breakwall at about 4:30 a.m., they told emergency personell while being transported to ambulances. They came to the lake with the intention of fishing, Mitchell said.
Sometime after the two were out on the breakwall, the weather turned, and they were knocked into Lake Michigan, Mitchell said. They then held on to ladders along the breakwall — meant to help people get out of the water — as well as the rocks for about four hours.
Eventually, they were able to climb up onto the lighthouse platform, and at 8:38 a.m. the Port Washington Fire Department got a call from a citizen who saw the two men stranded, Mitchell said.
The men were on the rescue boat around 10:30 a.m. and taken away in an ambulance. Mitchell said the two suffered trauma to various parts of their bodies, such as scrapes, bruises and cuts, but no obvious fractures. They were also both hypothermic. A photo gallery of the incident has been started here.
Several attempts had been made to rescue the two, but Port Washington Police Chief Richard Thomas said the effort was hampered by the high winds and waves. Thomas said divers had tried to get to the lighthouse by climbing the walls leading to the platform of the structure, but were unable to do so.
In fact, the National Weather Service issued a gale warning for the area that was in effect until 10 a.m. The service said winds would reach speeds of up to 25 knots with gusts of 35 knots. Waves were expected to reach heights of 8 to 12 feet.
It was the forecasted 10 a.m. change in weather that gave the rescuers their break.
"The weather changed considerably from the time we first got out there," Mitchell said. "The waters calmed down enough (for the rescue boat to get close)."
Two rescuers were then able to climb along the breakwall and secure the men with appropriate safety gear before guiding them back across the breakwall. The crew then did their best to time crossing back into the boat appropriately with the splashing waves.
Fishing from the breakwall is a common activity done year round, Mitchell said, though most people that fish from the area know the dangers; it is unknown right now where the two men where from. At least once or twice a year, calls come in regarding twisted ankles or other accidents on the breakwall. The condition of the breakwall has been deteriorating due to lack of funding.
Ray Meyer, captain of the Ozaukee County Water Safety Patrol Boat, said victims were "alert, calm and collected" after being rescue, but remained huddled during the boat ride to shore. All things considered, this rescue could have ended worse.
"This is fairly dangerous, (there's a) fairly good chance of rescuers getting hurt," Meyer said.
Port Washington Fire Department, rescue team, EMS personell and Ozaukee County Emergency Management team responded to the incident; A Saukville ambulance and a Grafton ambulance were used to transport the men.