By Marnie Eisenstadt / The Post-Standard
Joe Adornetto considers himself an outdoorsy guy who likes watching fishing and watching survival shows on TV.
Saturday, the Buffalo-area man found himself in what could have been a starring role in one of those shows: Adornetto, his friend and a dog clung to a floating cooler for more than 12 hours, miles from anywhere in the middle of Lake Ontario.
The day began as just another fishing trip for Adornetto, 26, of North Buffalo. He took his dog, Apollo, and his friend, Corey Willis, 24, of Tonawanda. Willis had only been out on a boat once before. Adornetto thought it was the perfect day to show his good friend how to fish.
They started out just after 3 p.m. in Adornetto’s 17-foot motor boat.
The water was choppy. The waves were at least 5 feet, Adornetto said.
The salmon weren’t biting. Dusk was approaching. Adornetto said it was about time to head back to shore, five miles away.
Willis went to the back of the boat and noticed water coming in. Adornetto told him it was nothing to worry about, that a pump would send it out.
Minutes later, Adornetto’s tackle box was floating. Water rushed through the floor. Knowing Willis couldn’t swim, Adornetto sent him to the front to get a lifejacket.
Adornetto ran to the back to try to restart the motor. He tried the backup motor. No luck.
The water kept coming. Adornetto dialed 911. The call failed.
The boat tipped and sank. Adornetto jumped in the water with his arm in the air, trying to keep his phone dry. He dialed 911 again. The call failed again. The phone got wet. The boat disappeared. Pieces from it were floating around them. It went down so fast Adornetto didn’t have time to grab the emergency pack, that included the flares. The flashlight fell in the water.
The water was 67 degrees, according to the Coast Guard.
Apollo, a 50-pound golden retriever, is a good swimmer, but he began panicking and pushed Willis under, Adornetto said.
Then Adornetto saw the unlikely thing that would save them: a plastic bench seat that opened up to a cooler. Apollo tried to jump on him. Adornetto pushed the dog away and swam for the bench. Once he got it, he convinced Apollo to get in the cooler. Then he had Willis hold onto the side of the cooler so the top half of his body was leaning into the cooler and onto the warm dog.
Adornetto held onto the side of the cooler and paddled.
He knew it was getting dark soon and they were dangerously close to the shipping lane — where giant barges haul freight. The swells would knock them around.
But the freighters were hope, too. The men yelled, screamed and waved their arms when the ships passed closed. Three of them went by. But no one saw them.
Then the sun set. One more ship went by — and kept going.
Then it was just the two men, the dog and the cooler. The moon was bright and the sky was clear. And cold.
The men talked about what they’d eat when they were saved. Willis was going to have Chinese food, he said. Adornetto was going to get a steak for the dog.
Adornetto assured them that his big sister, Amy, had already called the Coast Guard. She’s neurotic, he reminded Willis. And she had. When he didn’t show up at a family party at 9:30 p.m., she called the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard searched throughout the night but didn’t spot the men and the dog.
Adornetto tried to make sure they didn’t fall asleep. He’d ask Willis his name. He kept telling the dog to give him kisses.
In the middle of the night, they saw a helicopter’s light in the distance. Then it went back toward shore.
Adornetto kept hanging onto the cooler and paddling. And talking. When they got to shore, he told Willis, there would be four beautiful women waiting for them. They laughed.
Then the sun rose. And they saw a helicopter flying along the edge of the water, looking. It passed by them, turned, and then headed back. They waved their arms and screamed. They had been found by the Royal Canadian Air Force, who took over the search at first light.
“It was spectacular,” Adornetto said. A crew of Canadian rescue divers jumped in the water, inflated a raft, and took them men to a waiting Coast Guard boat.
Both men were treated for hypothermia at a hospital in Ontario. They were home Monday.
And Apollo the dog had several steaks and a very long nap.
Read and see more photos: Syracuse.com