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5 rescued after sailboat sinks

Four University of South Florida students swam about a mile to shore and rescue crews plucked a fifth out of the water Sunday evening after the men's sailboat capsized in Bunce's Pass, off Fort De Soto Park.

Three students spent about 2 1/2 hours in the water before they made it to the North Beach area of the park about 6 p.m., said Neil Crumity, district chief for St. Petersburg Fire Rescue.

A beachgoer saw the three when they arrived on shore and called emergency crews, authorities said.

Crews from St. Petersburg Fire Rescue, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and park personnel launched a search effort that included two helicopters and three boats. The fourth student arrived on land on his own an hour after the first three, authorities said.

A Sheriff's Office boat pulled the fifth student out of the water about 8:30 p.m., said Fire Rescue Lt. Rick Feinberg. The sheriff's boat was getting battered by waves, so a helicopter lowered a basket and transferred the student to a bigger boat which took him to a pier where he was rushed to a helicopter.

The student, who was found about 100 yards from shore, was flown to Tampa General Hospital to be treated for minor hypothermia, Crumity said.

His name was not available.

The other four - Dan Smith, Adam Webster, Todd Knieriemen and Kenneth Kneiss - were treated at the scene for hypothermia and released, authorities said.

Feinberg said the four went back to the Pass-a-Grille Yacht Club, where they had rented the 20- to 24-foot sailboat, to get their cars and drive to the hospital.

The men were northwest of Fort De Soto Park and headed into the gulf when the boat capsized, authorities said. Crumity said it was windy around 3:30 p.m. when the men were dumped into the water. The water temperature was in the mid 60s.

The rented sailboat sank, Crumity said. A person who answered the phone at the Yacht Club refused to comment.