Body Found at Whiting Beach Identified as Missing Boater

A 29-year-old man who was found wrapped in life preservers about 12 hours after the boat sank was the only survivor of the accident

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A body that washed ashore in Whiting, Indiana Monday has been identified as a man who disappeared in a boating accident on Lake Michigan in May.

    An autopsy performed Wednesday identified the man as 30-year-old Orest Sopka, of Chicago, according to a release from the Lake County Coroner. His body was discovered just before 9 p.m. Monday at Whiting Beach, officials said.

    Sopka, a Chicago trader, went missing after his boat capsized in Lake Michigan on May 31 while heading to Burnham Harbor in Chicago from New Buffalo, Michigan. Three other people were on board at the time of the accident.

    A 29-year-old man who was found wrapped in life preservers about 12 hours after the boat sank was the only survivor of the accident. Shortly after he was pulled from the water, the body of 26-year-old Chicago attorney Ashley Haws, who was also wearing a life preserver, was found floating in the lake. An autopsy attributed her death to hypothermia.

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    The body of a second victim, a woman in her 20s, was found last month about 5 miles east of Navy Pier.

    It’s not clear what went horribly wrong when the boat sank last month — but as the boat began taking on water, its four occupants began scrambling to bail it out, according to a source with knowledge of the account the survivor gave to authorities.
    The boat’s ship-to-shore radio was not working, and there were no cellphone signals to call for help — the boat was too far from shore.

    Flares were fired into the air, but no one saw them.

    The engine began to smoke and caught fire, power was lost and the bilge pump failed, according to police. An alarm panel sounded and the engine shut down, according to Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Brian Dykens.

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    The lone survivor told authorities he distributed life preservers before the boat went down. Everyone on the boat could swim.
    Early the next morning, after he had been floating in Lake Michigan for about 12 hours, a fisherman spotted the man who survived.

    He was wrapped in five life preservers and had a floating boat bumper tucked under his legs, allowing part of this body to remain above the waterline. He was suffering from hypothermia and, according to the fisherman, was “totally delirious.”

    Authorities estimate the boat was several miles offshore when it sank.

    The man who survived had more body fat than the other three boaters, a factor that helped him survive in water temperatures colder than 60 degrees, the source said.

    The man has since recovered enough to leave the hospital. Parts of his story have changed several times, but hypothermia likely muddled his memories and left the him in a confused state, the source said.

    “It seems like he’s not really clear on what happened,” the source said, adding that foul play is not suspected.

    Searchers found some debris — seats from the boat, at least one used flare and multiple life preservers — but are unsure where exactly the boat sank.