A 47-year-old Dane survived 17 hours of freezing water and high waves after falling overboard from his boat off the island of Vejrø, just south of Zealand.
The man was out sailing on his own on Tuesday afternoon. He fell off his boat when he stood up just after turning on the engine and switching it to autopilot.
Estimating that he was probably 5–8 kilometers (three to five miles) away from Vejrø at the time, the man had to helplessly watch his boat sail away with no chance of catching up to it.
Equipped with a rudimentary inflatable life-vest that served to keep his head above water, the man proceeded to swim towards land, according to Vordingborg police chief Arne Holdesen.
“He believed that it was probably wiser to start swimming towards Zealand as there is more maritime traffic there, and thought there would be a better chance of being spotted by someone,” Holdesen told Danish tabloid BT.
Throughout those 17 hours the man spotted several boats and ships and blew the whistle attached to his life-vest to get their attention, but to no avail.
“He tried to get the boats’ attention, but he just disappeared among strong winds and high waves, so the boats either failed to see him, or hear him,” the police chief explained.
He eventually swam up to a buoy and intended to climb up on that, but had to abandon the attempt after taking a closer look.
“The buoy had some steps he could climb, but he was concerned that his inflatable life vest would be punctured on the sharp shellfish covering the buoy if a wave were to hit him at the wrong moment,” Holdesen said.
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The man then resigned himself to swimming back towards Vejrø. As the day wore on, search and rescue helicopters flew right over him on three occasions, and during the night, a boat sailed within 10 meters of him, but he failed to react in time.
Eventually the wind and current helped transport the exhausted man back to Vejrø, where he was discovered one kilometre off the coast by a couple on a sailboat.
He was immediately flown to Odense Hospital, where he quickly recovered and has since been discharged.
The police chief was amazed that the man had managed to survive the ordeal.
“I don’t know what enabled him to hold out for those 17 hours. He did not mention at all that he even so much as considered giving up,” Holdesen said, adding that the man seemed surprisingly calm and alert when he spoke with him.
The man still plans to go sailing in the future, but told the police chief that he had learned his lesson about the importance of a good life-vest.
“He said that he would make sure to carry better life-saving gear with him in the future, including a better life-vest. An inflatable life-vest is basically just a sausage around your neck, so it’s not very effective,” Holdesen told BT.
“But in any case, it’s good that this story had a happy ending.”