Teen kayaker who drifted for 8 hours in Gulf talks about Coast Guard rescue

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. (WFLA) – A 17-year-old knows she is lucky to be alive. Karlin O’neill went on a Kayak trip Sunday with family members. Karlin lost her paddle after being caught in the wake of a large boat.

Her trip began just after 2 p.m. but didn’t end until after 10:30 that night when a Coast Guard rescue swimmer spotted her on a night vision camera system from a search helicopter.

“We had ideal search conditions for this search. The survivor did everything right. She stayed with the kayak, she had her life jacket on, she luckily had water on board, she didn’t attempt to swim to shore. All of the factors definitely played in her favor,” Lt. Frank Cheske with the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Cheske was flying the helicopter when his rescue swimmer spotted the 17-year-old, still in her kayak, more than four miles out into the Gulf.

“She was definitely coherent. She was waving, the international sign of distress, waving of arms. We were happy to see that,” Lt. Cheske said.

Rescue swimmer Jake Garbrecht said it was a great feeling to see a live person waiting to be picked up. “We do stuff like this all the time and it’s not always a great outcome, so when you have something like this, where you actually find the person, especially being a teenager, you have a good feeling and you know you helped somebody out today,” Garbrecht said.

Karlin suffered from a slight sunburn but not much else.

The Coast Guard crew said a key to her survival was that she didn’t panic.

“During the day I was pretty relaxed because I could see that the Coast Guard was looking for me, like I could see the helicopters in the distance and once night game I kind of got scared because it’s a lot harder to find someone then,” Karlin said.

She said she considered trying to swim to shore. “I was thinking about getting out and trying to swim back but I figured it would be easier to find me in the kayak than just myself in the ocean,” Karlin said.

Lt. Cheske said one of the best decisions the teen made was to stay with the kayak. Life jackets save lives, so she luckily had it on. She didn’t attempt to swim to shore. We were very fortunate to find her. She did everything right,” Cheske said.

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