By Mike DePietro
One afternoon last September, Justyn Dudeck took his sailboat out alone on to Lake Ontario. What began as an average fun-filled day out on the water quickly turned into the fight of Justyn’s life when he was swept overboard.
Now, more than a year after the event, Justyn is opening up about his near-death experience to caution others.
Justyn will present “The Miracle on Lake Ontario Man Overboard” program on Saturday morning at the Tuscarora Yacht Club. He and others will offer advice to boaters on what to do if they’ve been swept overboard and ways they can prevent that from happening. Additionally, the event will serve as a formal show of gratitude and appreciation for the first responders who saved Justyn’s life, including the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Wilson Volunteer Fire Co.
Photographer Ed Goodnight will present a slideshow of photos and videos taken during the rescue, along with Justyn’s own live video that he had recorded that fateful day.
Afterward, Diane Quart, commodore of the Buffalo Harbor Sailing Club, will give a free “man overboard training seminar” to deliver life-saving tips for what to do in case of a similar situation. Representatives from West Marine will also be on hand to deliver a safety equipment presentation.
Justyn’s story is a harrowing tale for any who venture out on the water, especially those who do so alone.
On the afternoon of Sept. 24, 2018, he prepped his boat, strapped on a lifejacket and shoved off from the dock. Despite seemingly great conditions, as soon as his boat entered the channel, Justyn knew he was in for a challenging day.
“I sailed up wind about six miles offshore and decided to run, … I was going faster than I had ever before,” he said.
Wanting to capture video, Justyn climbed the bow pulpit, a decision he now calls the worst of his life. The bow came down off a wave and hit a swell that launched Justyn from the boat.
“It was like the boat just leapt out from underneath me,” he said.
A few years prior, Justyn had purchased a water-resistant iPhone and matching Apple Watch.
“It was a lot of money at the time, but I thought, ‘What if?’ ” he said. That bit of foresight ended up saving his life.
While fighting 10-foot waves, Justyn was miraculously able to dial 911. The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office dispatch received a call at 3:19 p.m., but there was nothing but open air on the other end of the line. After dispatchers made several unsuccessful attempts to call the number back, Justyn was able to call again and finally get through.
Two boats were dispatched from Wilson and Olcott, along with a Coast Guard helicopter. Though rescuers were able to track the GPS signal from Justyn’s phone, lake conditions had worsened, making it difficult to find him. Justyn would spend over two hours in the water before first responders finally found him.
While Justyn’s love for the water has gone unchanged, and he has no plans to stop single-handing, he admitted that, in the future “I am going to do a few things different.”
In the end, Justyn offered an ominous bit of simple advice for others: “Be prepared, even on a perfect day -- be prepared.”
In addition to the presentations, West Marine will hold a door prize raffle, and refreshments will be served. The free event is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
The Tuscarora Yacht Club is located at 1 Shore Drive, Wilson. For more information, contact Jeff Jordan at 716-432-9064.