In the mind of Wrightsville Beach resident Michael Brown, his actions on the night of Wednesday, Aug. 20, are undeserving of the heroic title one could assign to him. When he heard someone was lost overboard from a vessel in Banks Channel around 9:30 p.m. that evening, Brown did not hesitate to launch his kayak and begin searching for the woman.
The woman in the water was Wylene Booth McDonald, a 57-year-old Wrightsville Beach resident who was with two other women aboard the vessel from which she fell. After realizing McDonald was no longer onboard, the vessel pulled up to the nearest dock along Waynick Boulevard, which happened to be Brown’s.
“I was sitting with my wife watching TV and the dog was out on the porch and he seemed to be stirring around, so my wife went out to see if he needed to be let out. When she did, there was someone running up our pier,” Brown said. “They said, ‘Call 911, we have lost somebody overboard.’”
Brown’s kayak was located near the waters of Banks Channel and he launched with only a 3-inch flashlight and knowledge of the outgoing tide’s flow to aid his search.
“I just started paddling with the tide past the pier line and I would paddle a few strokes and then flash the light left and right,” he said. “I was about five docks south of mine when I thought I heard a noise, and then in another couple of minutes I heard the same noise. So I paddled around a pier and between the floating dock, and by the first boat moored there, I saw the lady.”
Brown recalled there was no wind that night, which helped him hear the noise he can only guess was a groan from McDonald. If he had not heard the noise, Brown said it would have been very unlikely that he would have found her in the darkness.
“She looked like she was face-down in the water, so I took her by the collar and pulled her up beside me on the kayak and realized she was unconscious,” Brown said. “I bailed out of the kayak and swam her to shore right there and ran up to the road about one block south of where I live.”
By that time, about five minutes after Brown set off in his kayak, emergency crews were on scene and began administering CPR.
“I retrieved her from the water and they saved her life,” Brown said humbly.
N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission investigating officer Clayton Ludwick said Linda Jenkins, who was driving the vessel at the time McDonald fell overboard, was charged with boating while impaired. Ludwick said he has not yet been able to determine where McDonald was on the boat at the time she fell in, but he does know Brown did save her life.
“There is no doubt in my mind he saved her life,” Ludwick said during a Friday, Aug. 22 phone interview.
McDonald was rushed to New Hanover Regional Medical Center by New Hanover County EMS Wednesday evening and remained in the Intensive Care Unit until she was released from the hospital Saturday, Aug. 23.
With McDonald back home recuperating, Brown hopes the two will have the chance to meet someday.
“From everything I have heard, she is back home and recuperating, so that is great,” he said. “I don’t really want to sensationalize it or anything because I know this was traumatic for her and I was just doing what I could do.”