FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – His sister was preparing a funeral. The Coast Guard was embarking on a rescue.

Michael Mankamyer was 30 miles off Fort Lauderdale treading water in choppy seas.

About eight hours earlier, the 35-year-old Orlando, Fla., man had jumped from a cruise ship balcony – rescue officials were at a loss to say why, though they reported a witness said he was drunk. But salvation came at 8:45 a.m., when a lookout on the Coast Guard cutter Chandeleur, Petty Officer Ryan Coon, spotted Mankamyer in the fresh sunrise about 75 yards away.

He was shirtless, splashing and thrashing his arms.

“I knew that was our guy,” Coon told reporters Friday evening. “I hollered out, “Man overboard, portside!”‘

The crew threw Mankamyer a life ring; he swam up and grabbed it. “When I saw that he still had the energy to swim, I knew we weren’t going to have any problems,” said Lt. James Bernstein, commander of the 110-foot Chandeleur.

The vessel was unable to get close to Mankamyer. A Coast Guard helicopter soon arrived and dropped a rescue diver into the sea. He helped Mankamyer into a rescue basket and plucked him out.

About 10 minutes later, the cutter crew heard Mankamyer’s voice over the radio: “Thank you, guys.”

“It was an overwhelming feeling that you felt from the gut of your stomach,” crewmember Jorge Heredia said.

Mankamyer, suffering from a collapsed lung and mild hypothermia, was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, where he was sedated and a tube was helping him to breathe. Snatched up by the Gulf Stream, he had drifted 20 miles from where he was reported overboard.

An MRI technician at Florida Hospital in Orlando, Mankamyer was on the final leg of a week-long Caribbean cruise with his 16-year-old godson, Salvie Wega of Orlando, aboard Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Glory. They were scheduled to return to Port Canaveral Saturday.

Around 12:45 Friday morning, Wega’s mother, Margaret, said officials told her Mankamyer dashed through his cabin and out the balcony. “They said that Michael went off the side of the ship and my son Salvie tried grabbing him but he couldn’t grab him,” Margaret Wega said.

It was about 60 feet to the water’s surface. “At that height, it’s like falling on cement,” said Luis Diaz, a Coast Guard spokesman.

Family members were stunned. “He isn’t wild,” said his sister, Gina Mankamyer, 44, of Orlando. “He isn’t a depressed person, and he isn’t a heavy drinker.”

Her brother, she said, is unmarried and lives with his dog Zoey.

Wega said Michael Mankamyer, whom she’s known for about 15 years, is an average swimmer who often rides personal watercraft and once owned a boat.

“Michael knows how to swim just like anybody else,” said Gina Mankamyer. Like other family members, she received word from cruise officials early Friday that he had gone overboard. “We were hysterical,” she said. “We were already thinking about having to plan a funeral without a body.”

Then came the astounding news: Mankamyer had been rescued.

Nancy Nelsen, a civilian search and rescue specialist who works with the Coast Guard’s Miami office, credited a new computer model, the Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System, or SAROPS, for helping locate Mankamyer. The system analyzes wind and currents, and uses an animated grid model to project where a floating person could be.

“He was out there for eight hours. How did he just float there?” asked Wega.

Nelsen had a simple explanation: “He was able to remain calm and tread water.”

While seas were 4 to 6 feet high, and winds were 17 to 20 mph, temperatures were forgiving. The National Weather Service reported the air at about 72 degrees and water temperatures in the mid-to-lower 70s offshore. Had it been cooler, Mankamyer may have suffered even worse hypothermia.

“If you were in a cold water situation, hypothermia would have set in in as little as 20 or 30 minutes,” Nelsen said.

Another factor was Mankamyer’s body mass. As a heavyset man, he was more likely to float than someone leaner, said Richard Rotundo a professor at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine who specializes in cell biology and anatomy.

“Someone who . . . has excess fat, their body density would be less than water,” Rotundo said. Layers of fat would also insulate Mankamyer from the cold, the professor added, and help retain body heat.

Two Coast Guard cutters and two helicopters took part in the rescue, which swept 125 miles and cost $72,955, said Nelsen. Mankamyer won’t be asked to reimburse those expenses, she said.

Mankamyer’s family was headed to Miami on Friday evening. “We’re just very happy,” said Gina Mankamyer. “Very eager to talk to him.”

(South Florida Sun-Sentinel staff writer Georgia East and Orlando Sentinel correspondent Sara Lundy contributed to this report.)

(c) 2007 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Visit the Sun-Sentinel on the World Wide Web at

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-03-16-07 2102EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.