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Archive for Sunday, July 15, 2001

Stranded fishermen stunned when passing boat refused to help

July 15, 2001

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The code of the wild is simple. When someone is in trouble, you help. It goes beyond courtesy. It is a moral imperative.

If someone is lost, you help. If someone is out of food, you help. If someone is broken down, you help.

This is true in the mountains, in the woods, on the water. Those who play in the outdoors understand Mother Nature's power. They understand how things can go wrong, how life-threatening danger springs quickly from seemingly benign conditions.

Which is why it is so offensive when someone violates this basic precept.

During a recent Calumet River bass tournament, partners Jeff Miller of Midlothian and Al Huhra of Joliet zipped out to Lake Michigan in search of fish. They were about 112 miles south of Burnham Harbor at 6:45 a.m. when the motor quit.

"Just fried it," as Miller put it.

It was a sunny, warm day and the waves on the big lake were minor. But because they were stranded, that was of minimal comfort. We all know the weather in Chicago, on one of the Great Lakes, is subject to change faster than the weatherman can warn.

In this case it could only have been a change for the worse.

Miller and Huhra hailed a passing boat and the driver not a participant in the tournament stopped. They explained they were adrift and asked for a tow to shore.

The response? I haven't got time. And the boat zoomed off.

Miller and Huhra were stunned. They couldn't believe it.

"We were under stress," Miller said. "I wish I would have got the guy's number off his boat. I can't fathom it."

After the shock subsided, they became angry.

"There's an etiquette for boating," Huhra said. "It's dangerous."

Helping others in distress when the elements can claim lives is a responsibility.

The disappearing boater may have violated the law of the outdoors, but he did not break Illinois state law.

Tom Walkobinger, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources chief of conservation police, said it is not a requirement to help someone in trouble unless there is an accident, but etiquette dictates the passerby should have tried.

"The most we can charge them with is bad form," Walkobinger said. "The next time it could be you."

The next time it could be any of us in a tough spot on Lake Michigan, in the wilderness, on a mountain. We must be able to count on fellow outdoorsmen.

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