LEHIGH, Iowa — An Iowa man used his wits and military training to avert disaster when his kayak flipped on Thursday.
Ben Wescott, 29, of Webster, was kayaking on a lake at the Brushy Creek State Recreation Area when he found himself in the cold, choppy water and his lifejacket still inside the vessel, The Messenger of Fort Dodge reported.
“I knew it was going over,” Wescott told KCCI-TV. “I knew there was no saving it, so I just pushed myself out.”
Wescott found himself a half-mile from shore and no one in the vicinity, according to the television station. He confessed he was not a good swimmer, but swam toward a tree branch that was sticking out of the water, according to The Messenger.
“I swam on my back, that’s the only way I can swim in the direction of the tree,” Wescott told KCCI. “Occasionally flipping over to see if I’m going in the right direction.”
Forced to swim in choppy waters, Wescott was not optimistic about his chances.
“The second time that I was pushed under the water, I thought that was just it,” Wescott told KCCI. “I thought I was gone.”
That was when Wescott’s military background kicked in, as he remembered the words of his drill sergeant.
“He’d just tell me to keep going and that’s what I kept doing,” Wescott told the television station. “I just kept going.”
Wescott also pulled out his cellphone and used his Snapchat story app to ask friends to call 911, The Messenger reported. Then he blew onto the phone speaker until it was dry enough to make a 911 call on his own.
Conservation Officer Bill Spece and Park Ranger Matthew Petersen were in the area and responded within three minutes, according to Capt. Matt Bruner of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Bureau. Spece was towing a boat when he received the call.
“My first thought was, thank goodness we had the boat hooked up and we gotta get there and get him out,” Spece told KCCI.
The officers pulled Wescott into the boat, where he was checked by members of the Dayton Rescue Squad, The Messenger reported.
“You never truly appreciate the DNR and sheriffs until you depend on them to save your life in the middle of the lake when you’re holding on to a tree,” Wescott told the newspaper.
Wescott said he learned an important lesson -- wear a life jacket.
“No matter how geeky it may seem, it is definitely worth it, having it on,” Wescott told KCCI.
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