LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. — A Lee’s Summit man and his family say they’re thankful he’s alive after he was swept into the ocean by a rip current, and had to survive a long night in the water.
“They sent out the news to all the fisherman on the island, to say to watch out for the silly American in a blue boat,” said Arlen Tanner, who survived 16 hours in his kayak in the ocean.
Tanner, 56, went on a week-long dental hygiene mission trip in Honduras from June 11th to 18th. He went snorkeling with the group, but didn’t have a life vest on.
A rip current caught his kayak and dragged him 30 miles into the water.
“I couldn`t turn the kayak, I`m just digging with the left oar and I couldn`t pull it past 45 degrees,” Tanner said.
His wife, Patty, was snorkeling near him and two of their kids.
“I looked up again just to make sure we were still in the same vicinity, and I couldn`t see him at all,” Patty said.
Patty immediately called for help.
“I just rode, and I kept inspecting over my shoulder for a boat, no boats came, sun went down, and I had a dark night at sea,” added Tanner, “The sea just turned angry at me, so that`s when I had those huge waves that you look up at and it`s trough and the boiling water, that lasted probably an hour, hour and a half, flipped me twice.”
Tanner managed to hold onto his paddle and the kayak, and he still had on his fins.
“I could get enough lift to turn it back over, climb back in the kayak, and the second time I just laid down on my face and just held on and let it ride,” Tanner added.
He spent 16 hours floating in the sea in his kayak.
The father of five and nine grandkids said his daughter in St. Louis just had a baby earlier that week.
“That was one of my thoughts on the boat, is I`ll never get to see my grandson in this life,” said Tanner.
Back on shore — the group and his family spent the whole night praying he’d be found alive.
“We kept asking ourselves, is this really happening,” his wife said.
“It was the longest night of my life,” said Tanner.
Boats and planes searched for Tanner — a helicopter spotted his bright blue kayak around seven the next morning.
“ A rescue chopper flew over and saw me, and the guy jumped in the water and climbed in,” Tanner said, “It was just incredible relief, it was like yes, prayers are answered, I`m going to be good.”
Patty was surrounded and being comforted by other members of the group when she got the message.
“I just burst out in tears, and turned to my son and daughter, and we hugged, and that was when I really lost it,” Patty said, “It was amazing to think he was alive.”
Tanner said so many people were waiting on the dock when they pulled up.
“And they all starting cheering, and that`s the first time I cried,” said Tanner, “Wow, it was just great to be back on shore with everybody.”
Tanner said he`s so thankful for everyone who prayed for him, and all the rescuers — most of which were volunteers.
He said there are a ton of life lessons from this — like no matter how hopeless things seem, just keep hanging on.