Loren Niurka Mora, Caitlin Petro, and Eliza Cameron: How the quick thinking of three college women saved the life of an experienced fisherman.

Loren Niurka Mora, Caitlin Petro, and Eliza Cameron

FL, Sarasota
By Jason Kersten
(photo: Preston C. Mack/Redux)

Mike McClure waded into Sarasota Bay for a little fishing on a beautiful day last April. The 67-year old retired youth counselor had been angling in Florida’s intracoastal waters for years. This afternoon, the water off the New College of Florida campus was shallow enough at low tide that McClure could easily walk 100 yards offshore and cast his line in any direction. Sporting waders that reached up to his chest, he worked his way south down a sandbar, searching for his first nibble of the day.

“I was just enjoying the heck out of the experience,” says McClure.

Near sunset, still without a fish, he decided to turn back. Rather than retrace his earlier course, though, he chose a more direct path toward shore, assuming the bay wouldn’t get deeper along the way. Instead, it had become an impassable trough, and he was trapped. “When I turned around and realized that the water was getting close to my waist, I just felt so alone,” he remembers. He tried to wade along different angles, but shallower water eluded him. Finally, he decided his safest option was to head straight for land and hope for the best.

“Within about five steps, the water was coming in through the top of the waders,” says McClure.

He felt the deadweight of the flooding waders pulling him down and knew that if he didn’t get out of them, he would drown. Thinking fast, he dropped his fishing rod, then lifted his legs to try to kick his way out of the waders. Instead, they pulled him completely below the surface. Thrashing, he started swallowing water. At the same time, the current caught him, and he could no longer touch bottom.

Back onshore, Eliza Cameron, 19, Loren Niurka Mora, 20, and Caitlin Petro, 20, had been watching McClure fish as they lounged on a patch of grass after a long week of classes. They saw McClure go under and then heard him cry, “Help!” His head was back above the water, but he was still trapped in the waders, and he was losing his breath.

“We looked around, and there was no one else there,” recalls Cameron. “We realized we had to go in.”

The three friends kicked off their shoes and ran into the bay. Freestyling their way forward, they fought against a strong current for the length of a football field. As they neared McClure, all they could see was his fishing cap above the waves. They were all good swimmers, but each of them suppressed a fear that he’d already slipped back under and they’d have to dive to find him—and that he might pull them down too. McClure was floating on his back with his head barely above the surface when they reached him. He’d managed to kick himself out of the waders, but he was hyperventilating and holding his chest, and his eyes had partially rolled back—a sign that he could be losing consciousness. As the young women drew near, his desperation began to fade. “I looked over my shoulder, and these three little angel faces were looking at me,” he remembers. “It was almost mystical.” McClure was still fighting for breath, however, as his waterlogged shirt tugged him downward. The young women yanked the shirt off him. Then Cameron and Mora each hooked an arm under his shoulders, while Petro supported his back and held his hand. As they began to tug him toward shore, they realized the ordeal was far from over. The current was strong, and with McClure in tow, they felt like they were merely treading water. “I need some encouragement. I need to touch bottom,” McClure gasped. The women fought on, assuring him that they were making progress. As they finally got the upper hand of the current, they spotted another woman onshore who was phoning for help, and by the time they reached land, a campus police officer was on the scene. McClure collapsed onto the grassy bank. Finally, he caught his breath and was soon sitting up.

But he didn’t have much time to thank them. Mora had punctured her foot on a fish bone while helping McClure out of the bay, so once he was safe, the young women headed for the campus infirmary, where a nurse bandaged her wound. Later that night, McClure reached Mora on the phone. Exhausted and unable to speak for long, he told her that he planned to thank them in person.

At first, the friends thought the rescue was nothing special. “It seemed like something anyone would have done,” notes Cameron. Looking back on the rescue, however, the women agree they had drawn strength from one another. “I think because the three of us were together, it made us a lot braver,” says Mora.

It was only when they met McClure several evenings later at the college’s student union, and he laid pictures of his wife, kids, and grandkids on a table, that the young women understood suddenly what they had given him, says Petro. “That’s when I realized we’d done something amazing.”

Post a Note to this Hero

blog comments powered by Disqus

20 million people rely on AmericanTowns each year to find & share local information