Close call for canoeists document.title= "Close call for canoeists"; Uncle, nephew taken safely to shore by jet skier By Alison Bell

Fort Erie
Aug 01, 2008

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When Tom Monahan and his nephew P.J. Abelein, 16, decided to head out from Bay Beach to return a canoe Friday morning, they didn't expect to be longer than a half hour.
But when the wind picked up and their canoe filled with water, they found themselves kicking for shore among three-foot-high waves in the chilly waters of Lake Erie.
Luckily, they were both wearing life jackets, but as family members anxiously waited on shore for their return, the safety measure could just barely ease their minds.
"When he went out (the wind) didn't seem like a big deal," said Sheila Abelein, Monahan's sister and mother of P.J., 16.
Sheila said her son was visiting brother Tom and his wife, Bonnie, at a cottage they rented in Crystal Beach. The family borrowed a canoe from friends and were returning it to Bertie Bay beach. Instead of strapping it to the top of the van, they decided to bring it back by way of the water from Bay Beach.
At about 10:30 a.m., the canoe capsized. Monahan had a cell phone protected from water in a Ziploc bag and managed to call home, but couldn't reach his wife, who was waiting at Bertie Bay to pick him up.
After about a half-hour of searching for her son and brother from shore at Waterfront Park, Sheila decided to call 9-1-1.
"We couldn't see them at all. Others looked through the binoculars, too, and no one could see them," she said.
Since she was connected to a U.S. network, her call went to the American coast guard before being redirected to Canada.
As soon as the call came in, the Fort Erie fire department called in two rescue boats. Just before the second one was launched, the canoeists arrived safely at Waterfront park on a jet ski with nearby cottager Dan Trent Jr., more than two hours after the canoe capsized.
Trent Jr. was about to launch his jet ski with his son when he was asked by police to help with the search for lost canoeists. He immediately took off into the wavy waters in search of them.
"I saw the canoe first. It had tipped over and sunk -- it was barely on top of the water. I went back and forth a couple times and then I found them about a mile out from shore," said Trent Jr., adding Monahan and Abelein were swimming a little east of Thunder Bay.
The Monahans, who live in Tonawanda, N.Y., rent a cottage in Crystal Beach every summer. Sheila Abelein and her son P.J. live in Rochester, N.Y.
While she was happy her family members arrived on shore safely, Bonnie Monahan was shaken up as they were being checked by paramedics.
"It aged me about 10 years," said Bonnie Monahan, Tom's wife. "I almost lost my husband and oldest nephew."
Both Monahan and Abelein, who is a lifeguard, were wrapped in blankets to keep warm and weren't injured in the ordeal.
Fire Chief Jim Douglas told The Post he plans to recommend Trent Jr. be recognized by the town for his quick actions. "His help was integral. He played a key role in potentially saving their lives," Douglas said.