Capsized fishermen saved in late night rescue

Stranded on lake for 17 hours


PORT SANILAC — Two missing fishermen were found, cold but alive, sitting on the hull of their capsized fishing boat about 14 miles northeast of Port Sanilac Harbor early Friday morning.

According to the Sanilac County Sheriff’s Office, Dennis Pluff, 69, and David Varian, 68, both of metro-Detroit, had cast off from the harbor about 5:30 a.m. Thursday, July 25, bound for a favorite fishing spot some 22 miles out into Lake Huron.

Varian told sheriff’s office investigators that the pair was about six miles out when their small craft, an 18-foot Crestliner fishing boat, was slammed and washed over by high waves and began taking on water, ultimately capsizing around 9:30 a.m.

Varian said he and Pluff were wearing lifejackets and were able to climb atop the overturned vessel, which bobbed and drifted on the rough water for 17 hours, until their rescue about 2:30 a.m. the next morning.

Fortunately for the two men, a relative had become concerned when they did not return home and could not be reached by cellphone.

The family member called Sanilac Central Dispatch about 11 p.m. Thursday night to report the men missing.

A sheriff’s deputy responded to the call by checking out the Port Sanilac DNR launch area. There he found a vehicle registered to one of the men with an empty boat trailer attached to it in the parking lot.

The United States Coast Guard was notified, while, in the meantime, other responding deputies attempted to pick up any distress signals coming from out on the lake. They heard none.

Even attempts by deputies to use cellphone GPS tracking to pinpoint the men’s location were of no avail.

Fortunately for the two fishermen, one of the two officers who set off in the sheriff’s office marine boat to search for them was personally familiar with the pair’s favorite fishing reef and headed straight toward it.

That officer was Sergeant Matt Armstrong, who was accompanied by Deputy Luke Zeller.

The information about the location was shared with the Coast Guard, which had dispatched a rescue boat and a helicopter to join in the search of the area.

Around 2:30 a.m., the helicopter spotted something in the darkness. The crew relayed the location to the sheriff’s boat and the Coast Guard vessel, and the men were picked up by the Coast Guard.

Once safely aboard the Coast Guard boat, the two men were found to be suffering from hypothermia.

Pluff’s condition was so severe that he had to be airlifted by the Coast Guard chopper to Port Huron McLaren Hospital for treatment.

Varian was brought to shore and treated by Sanilac EMS on scene.

Sanilac County Sheriff Garry Biniecki said of the incident, “The joint effort between the Sanilac County Sheriff’s Office, the United States Coast Guard, Coast Guard Canada, and Sanilac Central Dispatch undoubtedly saved the men from further peril or death. They all should be commended publicly for their actions.”

The aluminum boat was not recovered.