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 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.

Robert B. September 26, 2011 at 08:58 PM
I don't think anything needs to be done to make it safer. It is safe - IF the weather is nice and you use common sense. I'm just guessing but if they would have checked the forecast before they went the high winds would indicate large waves that would make it really dangerous to walk out there. Even a hand rail wouldn't help if you get drilled by a huge wave and you're not ready for it.
mason barnett September 26, 2011 at 09:02 PM
It wasn't the break walls fault that they stayed out when it got nasty. They should have been more aware of their surroundings.
Angela Marchetti September 27, 2011 at 01:01 PM
I am very glad they are OK....but honestly, by doing such a stupid thing, they also endangered the lives of those rescue people....and that is not good. They should now have to go to schools and give safety speeches on what they did!!! Some kind of payback that makes sense!!!!
Robert B. September 27, 2011 at 01:17 PM
Good idea Angela. The first thing I did when I got home last night was tell my 13 year old about it and told him to never go out there alone and never after dark. On a nice calm summer day when there are other people out there it is perfectly safe and one of the best attractions of our city.
Robert J. Pape, Jr. October 06, 2011 at 04:12 PM
A job well done by Port Washington's finest and bravest who put themselves in harm's way to successfully preform a difficult rescue. Great work! Stay safe.


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