Hilton Head boater rescued from Calibogue Sound after three-hour struggle

cconley@islandpacket.comMay 17, 2012 

A Hilton Head Island man who fell from a speeding powerboat into Calibogue Sound Tuesday evening escaped serious injury after a New Jersey couple on Daufuskie Island answered his cries for help.

John Capin, 51, was in chest-deep water when the rescue party led by N.J. state trooper and part-time island resident John Lebak reached him at about 9 p.m. near Haig Point.

Exhausted and disoriented after battling the current for three hours, Capin considers himself lucky to be alive.

"I am very thankful John and his wife were out in the golf cart and were able to hear my screams," he said. "I was becoming very tired from all that swimming and didn't feel like I was getting anywhere."

Capin received seven stitches to close a gash on his chin. He also cut his feet walking over oyster shells.

"Probably the biggest problem was the emotional side of it all. I was scared being in water that long, and the things you think about are not necessarily pleasant," he said.

THE ACCIDENT

Capin was alone in the 20-foot powerboat in open water when the boat struck what he thinks was a submerged object northeast of Daufuskie late Tuesday afternoon.

The impact caused him to fall forward and hit his face on the dashboard, he said. As he tried to stand up, he lost his balance and fell off the back of the boat.

Capin, who said he's an experienced boater, estimated he was traveling 30 miles per hour. He was not wearing a life jacket.

The vessel continued moving after Capin was fell off. An off-duty Daufuskie firefighter found the boat Wednesday morning grounded on an oyster rake on a section of island known as Middle Marsh, said Sgt. Robin McIntosh, spokeswoman for the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

The boat is owned by Freedom Boat Club of Hilton Head. A boat club employee declined to comment on the incident, and a company spokesman did not return a phone call.

THE RESCUE

John and Marlene Lebak were on an spur-of-the-moment golf cart ride along Beach Road when they heard Capin calling for help. With headlights from two golf carts, the Lebaks and another couple spotted him a few hundred yards offshore.

After seeing Capin's head slip underwater, Lebak and another man waded into the sound and helped carry him in.

"He would have never made it over on his own," Lebak said. "He just couldn't do it.

After reaching land, Capin was driven to the ferry landing and taken by water taxi to Harbour Town, said John Schartner, a Haig Point Club employee who assisted with the rescue. Capin's friend drove him home from there. A doctor stitched up his chin the next day.

Lebak, 51, believes his law enforcement training came in handy during the rescue.

"The fact that this gentleman got out the water with minor injuries, life goes on for him," Lebak said. " It might not have ended that way,"

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