Midwest Sailing Employee Saves Life at Portage Lake Dam





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By Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com

On Sunday, May 20 around one o’clock in the afternoon, Jacob Stauch had just gotten home from his job at Midwest Sailing in Pinckney, Michigan.



Stauch, who has worked at Midwest Sailing for the past six years, was less than five minutes down the road at his home on McGregor Road in the kitchen about to make some food. He happened to look up and glance out of his kitchen window and saw two women and a baby girl in a smaller rowboat drifting along in the current towards the Portage Baseline Lake Dam.

“I didn’t even notice the baby at first because she was so small, and they were having trouble starting the engine, I guess,” said Stauch. “I knew that the current was really strong, and they had no chance even if they had started the engine. I ran and grabbed a rope and ran down there,”

The Stauch family has operated the dam for over 20 years, Art Stauch, Jacob’s father, told The Sun Times. After receiving rainfall the past two weeks, more kept coming, causing the rising levels and fast current.

“I don’t know the total rainfall in the area from that, but I know it was 5-6 inches at least, which is way too much water,” said Art. “The ground gets saturated then everything runs into the river. This is probably the most water I’ve cut loose. Right now it’s dangerous. Even kayaks that don’t have a lot of water friction can’t get down there safely.”

As Stauch was running out of the house with the rope, the boat was caught up at a set of wires that run across in front of the dam warning people of the dam, as the women held the wire trying to prevent themselves from going over the dam. He had to jump two fences as he initially thought he could throw a rope to the stranded boaters.

“Their boat flipped because the current was just so strong, and the undertow took them. All three of them just went right over the dam,” said Stauch.

Stauch thought he could get to the gate controls in time to close the gate to lessen the water flow, but the boat was flipped by the current before he could get to the control set. He then jumped a second fence right into the water as he saw the two women rise to the surface and begin to float to the side, but the baby girl, who was wearing a life jacket, was stuck in the rapids being tossed around. Stauch said the adrenaline kicked in as he jumped in without hesitation swimming to the baby.

He could hear the girl crying as she was continually caught in the strong current as he swam towards her. Stauch was able to reach her, use one hand to keep the lifejacket and baby secure on his chest, and backstroke towards shore. Stauch could hear the baby girl still crying and breathing as he fought the current on the way to shore.

On shore, Stauch stayed with the baby making sure she was alright, turning her on her side and undoing her life jacket so she could breathe easier until one of the women showed up shortly after, as the two women had been swept downstream further by the current.

He said the two women were pretty shaken up and that they didn’t live on the lake. They had been launching from the local Department of Natural Resources (DNR) launch located next to the dam. The baby, incredibly, was treated for only small bumps and bruises.

“I guess they were trying to get their motor started and they got swept right off their lift. They had no chance, I’m glad they made it out alright,” said Stauch, who wanted to let people know about the dangers of the dam with summer right around the corner.

 

 

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Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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