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Rescuer reunites with the rescued

HOLMES BEACH — Keith Barnett and Jim Kamenar never met until this month.

Yet they are inextricably linked since their paths crossed almost 40 years ago.

It was a chance meeting that saved Barnett's life.

He was 14, adrift and alone for almost two days in a 12-foot skiff in the Atlantic Ocean off Grand Bahama Island.

Kamenar was 20, a Coast Guard airman taking part in the search.

"My hero," Barnett, 53, said of his long-anticipated guest.

A reluctant hero, perhaps.

Unlike the gregarious Anna Maria Island businessman and boat captain, who still sails toward far horizons, Kamenar, 59, is a homebody, a humble, doting grandfather and real estate agent in Barberton, Ohio.

But when Barnett finally reached him two years ago after an Internet search and invited him to Florida, a reunion was inevitable.

He and his wife, Linda, spent two relaxing days catching up with Barnett and wife, Rebecca.

A Coast Guard letter listed the crew's names, but Barnett was able to locate only Kamenar.

It was May 23, 1969, a Friday, and Barnett had been dismissed from Freeport High School for not having the proper white uniform shirt. He wore beige.

"So I decided to take out the family skiff and check some traps," he said. Only Barnett didn't tell anybody.

Barnett spent the next 48 hours floating south, then west toward the Gulf Stream without food or water. But his fortunes changed early Sunday morning.

Kamenar's Coast Guard seaplane had been airborne only 30 minutes, cruising at 200 feet altitude toward its search area.

"Inside the plane was hot, so I go back, open a hatch, look down and I see a small boat coming under the right wing and he's waving frantically," he said. "It was totally luck."

Barnett was 30 miles from Grand Bahama Island, halfway to Fort Lauderdale, dehydrated, sunburned — and saved.

"It was like a religious experience," he said. "Even so, I didn't fully appreciate what happened until I matured."

Rescuer reunites with the rescued 04/21/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:40am]
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