Couple swims seven hours to reach safety after sailboat gets stuck in Great Salt Lake

Posted at 9:46 PM, Jul 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-28 23:46:07-04

GREAT SALT LAKE, Utah -- A man and woman from Ogden were forced to abandon ship when their sailboat got stuck in the shallow waters of the Great Salt Lake.

"It was the scariest day of my life," said Tess Lambert.

It was Saturday afternoon, with the sun beating down, and Lambert and Milo Pettigill had been on the water for almost 24 hours and were running out of resources.

"Low on water, only planning on spending a couple of hours," Pettigall said. "Food, none. Vodka, half a bottle. Cell phone that got wet the night before in the waves."

The irony was, just a few miles away they could see hundreds of potential rescuers fighting the Antelope Island fire.

"There was a plane circling 24/7, and you are waving and you are waving," Pettigill said.

Pettigill knew it was time to abandon ship when his first mate suggested setting the boat on fire to create a signal. So they left a simple note, written on the cooler, "Swam for Island."

"I mean if you get it in your mouth, your nostrils, or your eyes it burns," said Lambert about the water.

For seven hours the couple waded, walked, floated and kicked their way to Antelope Island. Lambert said at one point she didn't think she was going to make it.

"A couple hours into the swim, my body got really cold and I started to hypothermiate, and my teeth were chattering, I was really, really cold," Lambert said.

Pettigill was so delirious he started seeing things.

"I saw fishermen fishing, and there's nothing here that will live, its nothing but mirages, your brain is not thinking real clear," Pettigill said.

Eventually the couple crawled up on shore. A welcome party of flies and spiders were waiting for them. Lambert collapsed into the arms of a tourist.

"Those nice tourists saw me and came and poured water on me and made me drink water and kind of carried me up the hill," Lambert said.

It wasn't until Thursday night that the boat was unstuck and sailed home.

DNR said in order to prevent something like this, when sailing it's always best to have a safety plan in place. Tell family and friends when you plan to come home, that way if you don't show up they know something is wrong.