Pals lost at sea

Pals Lost at Sea

by Joe Warmington and Moira Macdonald

Toronto, Sun, November 8, 1994

 

Copyright 1994 and 1995, The Toronto Sun, a division of Sun Media Corporation

 

A Mississauga man whose boat sank survived a 36 hour ordeal in shark-infested waters off Florida by swimming 10km and clinging to a radio tower.

But his three Mississauga buddies still hadn't been found by the time the U.S. Coast Guard temporarily called off its search in the Gulf of Mexico by nightfall yesterday.

Jeff Wandich, 27, who owned the 25 foot fibreglass Sea-Dee boat that sank Friday at 4 p.m. 100 km off Marco Island,, said he's optimistic the pals he grew up with will also make it because they're equipped with survival gear.

An extensive search for Omar Shearer, David Madott and Kent Munro, all 25, resumes today.  So far there has been no sight of them or the boat, believed to have sunk in 60 to 70 feet of water.

Munro is a valve engineer at Tour and Anderson, Madott, an employee for Magna International and Shearer, originally from Mississauga, is a podiatrist at Ottawa's Civic Hospital.

"They wanted me to stay with them and hold each other and just float toward the tower," Wandich, a property manager for his father Alexander's West-End Developments co., told the Sun last night.  "Something told me that wasn't a good idea...I panicked and wanted to swim to this boat I saw."

'Couldn't believe it' but 30 seconds into the swim, he said, he regained his composure and started to head back to the trio.  "But I never found them again - I couldn't believe it."

Once he realized they weren't anywhere to be found he started to head for the tower where, he said, he expected to hook up with them.

Wandich swam 10 km to the U. S. Navy communications tower, extending 22 metres above the water, where he stayed for almost 36 hours until a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter spotted him.

"when we went by we saw him waving his arms into the air,' said Ensign Katie Howard of the coast guard, who was the co-pilot of the helicopter.  "I have never seen a human being so excited."

The coast guard crew, who went out of their search area to check the tower on a hunch, wondered if Wandich was injured but were surprised to see him give the thumbs up.  He then quickly put back on his wetsuit, dove into the water, and waited to be lifted out, she said.

"It was the fastest rescue we have ever done," said Howard.  In fact, Howard said, despite being sunburned and suffering from dehydration, Wandich refused to be taken to the hospital.

"He said, "Don't take me back - keep searching for the other three". she said.

The centre-console boat, powered by a 225-horsepower outboard engine, began to sink while all four men were under water diving into the remains of the California shipwreck, ore than 100 feet below.

Although "exhausted," Wandich spent yesterday with the families of his friends at a Fort Myers hotel, a 45 minute drive from his father's condo on Marco Island.

"He's been a real comfort to everybody," said Lloyd Shearer, Omar's older brother.

U.S. Coast Guard airplanes and choppers are now working an area closer to the Florida Keys - an area to which currents could have carried the three men.

Although the men have been in the water more than three days, Lloyd Shearer said from Fort Myers last night that he's optimistic they may still be alive since they were wearing wetsuits with floatation devises and are in waters consistently in the 77F range.

But, he said, al three families realize something must happen soon if their loved ones can be saved.

"We are doing the best we can," Lloyd, 30, said of the families who've gathered in Fort Myers awaiting results from the search.

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