Stranded woman spends 17 hours on rock before fishermen come to her rescue on Lake Mohave
Sometimes, just being in the right place at the right time can turn ordinary people into heroes.
That was exactly the case Saturday morning, June 1, 2019, when former Kingman resident John McKeehan and his brother-in-law, Kingman resident Dave Hilton III, were sharing a day on the water bass fishing at Lake Mohave.
The anglers had launched Hilton’s bass boat at daylight from Princess Cove and made the long run north into Cottonwood Basin, a huge body of water known for producing some giant largemouth and smallmouth bass.
But the anglers found a strong north wind with gusts up to 20 mph was making the fishing tough, so they started working their way south along the Arizona side of the lake. It was about 10 a.m.
As they started to pull into an area to fish, McKeehan heard something that sent chills through him.
“I heard a voice saying, help, help, please help!” McKeehan, who now lives in Warrensburg, Missouri and was out visiting his family in Kingman, said.
McKeehan wasn’t sure at first where the sound was coming from, and Hilton didn’t hear the cries for help due to the high winds.
But then McKeehan saw her. There, standing on a rocky ledge about two feet above the crashing waves, was a small-framed woman in a life jacket.
“She looked terrified,” McKeehan said. “She had cuts and scratches on her legs and feet, and she was missing a shoe.”
Hilton tried to maneuver his boat closer to the shore, but the high, rolling waves were threatening to tear up the boat as he got closer to where the woman stood.
Finally, as Hilton got the boat close to the ledge, the woman told McKeehan she could not swim anymore.
“I could see the terror in her eyes, and I thought, oh no, she’s gonna jump!” McKeehan said.
And jump she did. But the frail woman, who had been on that treacherous piece of rock for almost 17 hours, missed the deck of the boat. But McKeehan was able to grab her arm.
As he grabbed her other arm he told her, “I will not let you go,” and with that, he pulled her into the boat.
At that point the 51 year-old woman from California completely broke down and started sobbing.
McKeehan asked where her boat was, and she told him she didn’t have one.
“She told me that she was on a Jet Ski when the wake of a passing boat had knocked her off the watercraft,” he said.
The woman was thrown into the churning waters, and she watched helplessly as the Jet Ski floated away.
The incident started a little after 7 p.m. Friday when Lake Mead Interagency Communications Center received a call reporting that an adult female was overdue after departing on a personal watercraft from Telephone Cove around 3:30 p.m.
According to Christie Vanover, the Public Affairs Officer for Lake Mead National Recreational Area, the National Park Service and the Arizona Department of Public Safety responded and began ground, air and sea searches.
Vanover said rangers stayed with the family throughout the night to offer support. “Searches continued through Saturday morning until she was found,” Vanover said.
McKeehan said they gave the woman food and water as she told them several boats had passed by her while she was on the ledge, and they had not stopped to assist.
“She told us that she asked them to call 911,” he said.
There was no cell service in that area, which is about 20 miles north of Katherine’s Landing. When they got cell service, they called the woman’s husband and told him they had found her.
Arriving at Katherine’s Landing, McKeehan went to the store where he bought the woman a pair of shoes, some food and drinks. He told the clerk they had found the missing woman.
Rangers soon arrived and McKeehan and Hilton both noted the lady ranger went out of her way comforting the victim.
“She was very professional and took photos of our driver’s licenses and said she was going to put us in for a citizenship award,” McKeehan said.
With the victim united with her family, McKeehan and Hilton decided that maybe some good Karma would come their way after the rescue, so they started fishing again.
As it turned out, their intuition was right. McKeehan landed a smallmouth that weighed 4 pounds, 10 ounces, while Hilton landed a largemouth that weighed 3 pounds, 6 ounces.
“We are always appreciative of our boating community,” Vanover said. “They do such a great job helping out other boaters in distress. It sounds like John and Dave were in the right place at the right time.”