Chicago sailors honored with Hanson Rescue Medal

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Sailors Mary Kovats, Jacob Karlin, and Dave Stix of Chicago, Illinois, will be awarded a Hanson Rescue Medal by US Sailing for their bravery during the rescue of three distressed sailors from the cold, story waters or Lake Michigan on May 7, 2011. US Sailing has awarded these sailors with a Hanson Rescue Medal for the seamanship and regard for safety they exhibited.

Peter Kovats was returning to the Chicago Corinthian Yacht Club (CCYC) in Montrose Harbor from a birthday celebration sail on the lake with his friends Daniel Tenuta and Will Jablonski in Peter’s Rhodes 19 sloop, Peter Pan. They were hit by a storm with winds over 40 knots, hail, and steep waves with a water temperature below 50 degrees. The boat swamped and could not be righted despite several attempts.

Fortunately, Peter had left a float plan with Mary Kovats, his wife, who was the Chicago Corinthian Yacht Club’s Rear Commodore. Concerned that they had not returned by sunset, she rounded up two others sailors, Karlin and Stix, and the three of them headed out from Montrose Harbor into the lake in a small powerboat, which they were trained to use. Peter Pan was soon discovered swamped, drifting, and without the crew. The sailors were discovered wearing life jackets with whistles about 100 yards away. They had been in the cold water for at least 45 minutes and all three sailors – two of whom were in their sixties and the other in his forties – were suffering from hypothermia. Read Mary’s detailed account of the rescue:

Without discussion, Jacob went right for the radio and called in the Mayday. David and I scanned the water for the men. When I spotted something in the distance, David and Jacob handled the boat so I could remain pointing at the object. When we approached the object and realized it was Peter (nonresponsive and semiconscious), Jacob used what he learned in safety and rescue classes to slow the boat and steer around Peter to make his approach.

When we got Peter alongside the boat, we knew we had to position him onto his side so we could grip his body and easily roll him into the Whaler. We were all familiar with this technique from our US Sailing (Safety-at-Sea) classes. We just did it. It was efficient and priceless minutes were saved. We repeated the same technique with all three men.


Fortunately, when all the sailors returned to Montrose Harbor after 9 p.m., many CCYC members were there for meetings. The victims were treated by Dr. Andrea Krasinski, the Club Secretary, and George Quinlan, a ski patroller with OEC/EMT training, until a Chicago Fire Department Emergency Medical Service ambulance took the three sailors to a local hospital for treatment. Other CCYC members went out onto the lake and towed Peter Pan back to the harbor.

'If the wife hadn't gone after them, they would probably be dead by now because nobody would have gone looking for them,' said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

All three rescuers had taken a US Sailing Safety-at-Sea Seminar. Additionally, Mary and Karlin are US Sailing Certified Instructors.

'The training we had was put to use by all of us,' said Mary. 'Every boater should take the (Safety-at-Sea) seminar.'

The Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal is awarded by US Sailing’s Safety-at-Sea Committee to any person who rescues or endeavors to rescue any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils at sea within the territorial waters of the United States, or as part of a sailboat race or voyage that originated or stopped in the U.S. Since December 2009, the Safety at Sea Committee of US Sailing has awarded 30 Hanson Rescue Medals for 24 incidents in which 48 lives were saved in the waters of 14 states. More than 180 Hanson Rescue Medals have been awarded since this program was launched in 1989.