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'I'm just lucky to be alive'

Survives 23 hours in Lake Manitoba

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A Stony Mountain man who survived in Lake Manitoba for 23 hours before he was rescued said yesterday he thought he would drown.

"I'm just lucky to be alive, you know," construction worker Danny Hooper, 43, said in an interview at Health Sciences Centre.

His life jacket kept him afloat until he was saved in a search that involved a private Cessna plane, a military Hercules 130 aircraft and a boat with RCMP and conservation officers.

"For him to have survived, it's amazing. He was four miles from where his boat sank," said his brother Rick Hooper.

Danny Hooper's ordeal began when he launched his 16-foot aluminum boat around noon Saturday for sport fishing at The Narrows, a channel on northern Lake Manitoba.

Within minutes, large waves rocked the boat. Hooper dropped anchor but it was too late.

The tiny vessel was swamped and his pump couldn't keep up with the water pouring in.

Figuring he was about 100 metres from shore, Hooper decided to swim for it.

"As soon as I jumped into the water, I didn't think I was going to make it," he said.

Seconds later, any thought of returning to his boat were dashed when waves pulled it under.

For the next 23 hours, Hooper fought to keep his head above water in one-and-a-half-metre waves.

He gave in to the current, kicking his legs when they cramped. He prayed and sang to stay alert.

"I sang Row, Row, Row Your Boat!" he said, cracking up into giddy guffaws in the hospital yesterday, making his wife and brother laugh at the thought that he sang while in danger of drowning.

It wasn't so funny at the time.

"I couldn't tread water. Every time I did, I would get a mouthful of water," he said. "I was so tired."

Finally, after 23 hours, the current washed him to a rock outcrop near a local landmark, Reed Island. Hooper hauled himself onto the rock, which was large enough to sprawl on. He soon caught the eyes of rescuers who had started the hunt four hours earlier.

"I was so happy to see him I was almost in tears," said volunteer lookout spotter John Gray, who is a funeral director in Ashern. He searched with his friend Ted Cook in Cook's private Cessna aircraft.

Hooper said the rock saved him because it let rescuers see him above the waves.

"The Cessna went over twice before and they hadn't seen me. I could hardly stand, I was so tired.... but I don't think they would have spotted me if I didn't get on the rocks," Hooper said.

Gray said he and Cook had almost given up; they'd taken a couple of passes already and had refuelled to start looking in another direction. A hunch led them to back track.

"He'd just gotten onto the rock when we flew over again," Gray said. "And I said to Ted, 'Where'd that guy come from!' You could see him wailing his life jacket at us."

Hooper said the thought of his family -- his three children and his wife -- kept him going.

After the Cessna spotted him, the military Hercules arrived, sending flares into the water to guide the RCMP and Conservation officers in a boat to rescue him.

Hooper said he was so weak, he had to be carried aboard.

In hospital yesterday, he was badly sunburned with his scalp showing red through thick hair. His eyes were bloodshot and he may have kidney damage.

Hooper's wife Shirley had a list yesterday of all the rescue workers to thank.

"I wanted to strangle him," she said, casting her husband a fond look. "But I was so happy he was OK. I was so relieved."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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