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Amazing story of survival on Willard Bay

WILLARD BAY, Box Elder County (ABC 4 UTAH) - Late last summer, the Mangelson family of North Salt Lake suddenly found themselves treading water in the middle of the 24-square mile bay. Six people and a dog. No other boats around. No one else has seen what's happened. They're alone.
WILLARD BAY, Box Elder County (ABC 4 UTAH) - Their boat was recently raised from the bottom of Willard Bay, and now they are ready to tell their survival story.

Late last summer, the Mangelson family of North Salt Lake suddenly found themselves treading water in the middle of the 24-square mile bay. Six people and a dog. No other boats around. No one else has seen what's happened. They're alone.

Becky Mangelson, the mother of the family, well knows the odds were against them. "We're a very ordinary family, but we lived an extraordinary event. We lived a miracle."

It was August 31, 2012 -- the Friday before Labor Day. It began as the perfect day to play on the bay. But late afternoon, a storm came out of the southeast. Everyone headed for the docks. One boat didn't make it.

Mark Mangelson, the father, was at the wheel of the Cobalt speed boat, "We believe the two waves that sunk us were probably 7 to 8 feet because they were a good foot that came up over the bow. Swamped, Mark remembers the boat going down in just a minute.

In that minute they grabbed life vests, cushions and wakeboards -- anything they could get their hands on.

18-year old Lauren McMullin, a friend of Erik Mangelson who was invited along for a day of fun, remembers, "Erik actually saved the cell phones. He saved mine and he was calling 911. He was holding it above the water and it was working! Then the call failed and then waves hit him." The cells phones where gone and with them, the brief, faint hope of rescue.

Once in the water, Becky said there was never a question of waiting for help to come to them, "The focus was - just get to shore."

Quickly, it became obvious that they would have to split into two groups. 11-year old Matt just couldn't keep up. "So Becky and I stayed back," explained Mark.

They sent ahead the three teenagers, Amanda, Erik and Lauren, but not before the family had a water-logged prayer and counseled the teens to stick together.

Becky said, "If you're on your own, you kind of let down and you let fear and you let other things get you down. But when you're working for someone else, when you're working for family, you're trying to help your son get to shore, you're not going to stop and you're not going to quit. And you're not going to let them quit either."

Swimming into the night and the storms, that counsel would be proven over and over.

"We all got tired at different stages," said Lauren. Amanda added, "And we each kind of lifted each other up and helped each other." Erik agreed, "We stayed in our groups and that's what helped us because our groups pushed through."

Erik needed the help. During the final hour of their swim, he was slipping into hypothermia. Paramedics would later tell him that his core temperature had dropped to 82 degrees.

"He was way out of it," said Lauren. "He couldn't talk in normal sentences." Erik remembered, "I started blacking out, loosing memory." Amanda said they held hands pulling Erik to shore.

Once they got to the rock wall on the east side of the bay, Erik was having trouble standing. So, for the first time, they spilt up. Amanda went over the wall, through a canal on the other side and then up the embankment to the shoulder of I-15.

It was approaching midnight and raining hard. Amanda, still in her swim suit and life vest, jumped and waved her arms, but if any of the drivers saw her, they don't stop.

However, a Highway Patrolman heading north apparently sees her, cuts through the median and comes back to where she's standing.

"At various points, everyone had their moment of panic," explained Mark. "Amanda was initially the one that panicked, but in the end she was the one that got to shore first and was able to flag down a policeman."

One the teens sounded the alarm with Utah Highway Patrol, search and rescue teams were brought in. Even so, they would not find the rest of the Mangelsons until after they too made shore around 1:00 a.m. The got under a park light not far from the north marina and waved at a rescue chopper.

As if drawing lessons from their experience, Becky said, "We didn't do everything right, but we did enough right. Being prepared, having those life vests on and those flotations, without that we wouldn't have made it. We absolutely would not have made it."

As rescuers arrived at their location, they expressed shock. One rescuer even cried. They thought they would find Matt and his parents dead.

Mark said, "We believe in God. We started with a prayer for safety. We believed that we would be safe. I don't think that at any point we thought we were going to die. Now, Matt asked us a few times are we going to die." Becky finished the story, "I said yes, we are going to die, but not today."

Again, the family has no illusions. Mistakes were made. And yet, once they were in the water, they did what had to do. They made decisions that brought everyone home safely.

"So we lost a boat!" exclaimed Beck. "Oh, well. But we have each other and we're all still here to enjoy each other."


Reporter's note: Cross Marine out of American Fork was contracted by the Mangelson's insurance company to find the boat and bring it up. Jim Cross reported to the company that there was nothing on the boat that would indicate that it had been improperly operated. He said, "There was nothing out of the ordinary with the boat. Everything appeared to be proper."


Even though it is now in the yard of Cross Marine, it is unlikely that the boat will ever again be used -- at least not in the way it was originally intended. Jim Cross hopes to sink it again and use it to train underwater search teams in location and recovery.




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