LEONARDTOWN, Md. – A Leonardtown couple saved a paddleboarder from drowning in Breton Bay. Last Thursday, they plucked the Florida man from the water just in time. The pair say that if they hadn’t made a last-minute change in dinner plans, he might have drowned.
John Vallandingham said he and his wife, April, were enjoying a rare night away from the kids. “April and I were contemplating dinner. We wanted to do Sweetbay but there was an accident in town causing bad. We decided to take the boat to Morris Point.” They headed out into Breton Bay.
Just before 6pm, near Buoy 7, April spotted something in the water to their right. “I knew it looked weird, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I said, ‘John, what is that?’ We see floating things all the time. This just looked a little different from what I’ve seen.”
John said with recent rain, there was a lot of floating logs and debris in the water. At first, the couple thought someone was swimming. However, because it was late in the day and pretty cold, they were concerned. John, who previously served in the Coast Guard, decided to turn around and check on the swimmer. “As we got closer, we realized there wasn’t much movement going on.”
Only Minutes Left
The couple pulled their boat alongside the swimmer and realized he was in distress. John said, “We could immediately tell he was very labored trying to swim. We saw his head go under the water. He was hypothermic. He couldn’t speak. The pair tossed a seat raft to the man.
April said, “We threw the life ring at him, but he was so weak he couldn’t grab onto anything.”
John then positioned the boat so they were able to pull him onto it. “He was definitely hypothermic. Couldn’t really talk. We helped him down into the cabin, turned on the heat, wrapped him in blankets, and called 911.”
The man was not in a position to talk much but did manage to give them his fiancee’s phone number. The Vallandinghams transported him to Breton Bay Community Pier to wait for Leonardtown VFD EMS to arrive.
They discovered he’d gone stand-up paddleboarding around 2:30pm in the afternoon. They aren’t sure when he fell into the water.
According to April, “There was no paddleboard in sight and his life vest malfunctioned.”
John said it looked to him as if the man only had minutes left before going under.
Keep Your Eyes Open
John said it’s important to always check out your safety equipment before going onto the water. He also reminded boaters to stay vigilant. “Keep your eyes open when you’re boating. When I was in the Coast Guard, we had cases where somebody sets off a flare and all the boats leave. If something looks funny or weird or someone is waving, don’t second-guess it, just make sure that they are okay.”
The man they pulled from the water was visiting from Florida, but the couple learned they have a connection to him.
John said, “I’ve been speaking to his fiancee’s son-in-law who is good friends with my brother’s father-in-law.”
The man was released from the hospital on Saturday morning. The couple hopes to have a chance to meet with him in person before he returns home.