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Man overboard saved after an 8-hour tread

The cruise passenger leaped, then drifted 20 miles. A computer projected his location.

March 17, 2007|Robert Nolin and Ihosvani Rodriguez | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — Michael Mankamyer was 30 miles off Fort Lauderdale treading water in choppy seas. About eight hours earlier, the 35-year-old Orlando man had jumped for unknown reasons from a cruise ship balcony.

Salvation came at 8:45 a.m., when a lookout on the Coast Guard cutter Chandeleur, Petty Officer Ryan Coon, spotted Mankamyer about 75 yards away.

Snatched up by the Gulf Stream, he had drifted 20 miles from where he was reported overboard. He was shirtless, splashing and thrashing his arms.

The crew threw Mankamyer a life ring; he swam up and grabbed it. "When I saw that he still had the energy to swim, I knew we weren't going to have any problems," said Lt. James Bernstein, commander of the 110-foot Chandeleur.

A Coast Guard helicopter soon arrived and dropped a rescue diver, who helped Mankamyer into a basket.

Mankamyer, suffering from a collapsed lung and mild hypothermia, was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, where he was sedated and a tube was helping him breathe.

An MRI technician at Florida Hospital in Orlando, Mankamyer was on the final leg of a weeklong Caribbean cruise with his 16-year-old godson, Salvie Wega of Orlando.

Around 12:45 Friday morning, Salvie's mother, Margaret, said officials told her Mankamyer had dashed through his cabin and out to the balcony. "They said that Michael went off the side of the ship and my son Salvie tried grabbing him but he couldn't grab him," Margaret Wega said.

It was about 60 feet to the water's surface. "At that height, it's like falling on cement," said Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz.

A witness on the ship thought Mankamyer had been drinking.

Mankamyer's family described him as well-balanced and not a heavy drinker.

Sister Gina, 44, said that when she and relatives received word early Friday that he had gone overboard, they were hysterical. "We were already thinking about having to plan a funeral without a body."

Then came the astounding news: He had been rescued.

Nancy Nelsen, a civilian search-and-rescue specialist who works with the Coast Guard's Miami office, credited a new computer model called SAROPS with helping to save Mankamyer. The system analyzes wind and currents and uses an animated grid to project where a floating person could be.

Mankamyer also benefited from mild temperatures and relatively calm seas.

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