Af­ter the crash

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS -

There was no time to climb out of the Swift be­fore it was un­der the waves.

Lanny tried to re­lease his mother from her seat, but he couldn’t find the belt latch un­der her bulky sweater. He resur­faced with­out her.

But right be­hind him she “bobbed up like a cork.”

Lanny saw a seat cush­ion, a head­set pouch and a plas­tic bag filled with frozen soup float­ing around them. He grabbed the freezer bag and pulled out the soup, then tried to fill the bag with air, but it wouldn’t stay in­flated.

His mother seemed dazed, Lanny said, but she was able to float on her back. Lanny was fu­ri­ously tread­ing water, which hov­ered around 70 de­grees, ac­cord­ing to the National Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

At least 20 min­utes passed be­fore Mary asked Lanny if they’d been in a crash.

Soon af­ter the crash, he­li­copters and small planes ap­peared in the sky, and Lanny was cer­tain they’d been seen.

The Mary­land State Po­lice used two he­li­copters in the search. The Coast Guard sent out an air­craft and a boat. Mary­land Nat­u­ral Re­sources Po­lice as­sisted with two boats.

“We waved and we splashed. We waved and we splashed. We waved and we splashed,” Lanny said. “And we get noth­ing.” They treaded water for an hour be­fore Lanny de­cided they needed to head to shore, which he could see only from the peaks of the high­est waves.

As Mary swam, she con­tin­ued to veer off course. Lanny, ex­hausted by right­ing her path, in­structed her to float on her back. He pushed his mother by her legs, as if her head were the bow of a boat, chop­ping through the waves.

The push­ing went on for an hour, as Lanny tried to get them closer to the coast. That’s when Mary told him to hold her hand.

He told her he couldn’t tread water next to her and still make progress to­ward shore. But with greater ur­gency, Mary be­gan plead­ing with him.

Then he lied — say­ing that he could see nearby houses, get­ting big­ger by the minute.

His mother kicked her legs, and Lanny took two strokes and went back to push her again. Her legs were limp.

Mary was dead.

Lanny was get­ting close. He could fi­nally see lights on the shore.

But a marsh and a bay, called Shanks Creek, still sep­a­rated him from the twin­kling lights of Smith Is­land’s Rhodes Point.

The hour spent crawl­ing through the bog was the most phys­i­cally de­mand­ing part of the jour­ney, Lanny said, and his body be­gan to fal­ter. Lean and strong, he had been on a fit­ness kick dur­ing the 10 weeks lead­ing up to the crash and thinks it im­proved his chances of sur­vival.

“I knew I wouldn’t drown, but I was in and out and in and out of the water with the wind and the sticky, stink­ing mud, crawl­ing on my hands and knees, fight­ing fa­tigue and hy­pother­mia,” he said.

He fo­cused on a bright, yel­low glow at one home. He could see lights through a win­dow.

“I guess it was about 8 o’clock, I’m start­ing to watch a ball game, a foot­ball game, and I heard some­body come to my door bang and yell, ‘Help me. Help me,’ ” said Wil­liam “Max” Cline.

Cline was not en­tirely sur­prised to see Lanny, drip­ping at the door. He’d seen and heard the search he­li­copters go­ing back and forth all evening.

Lanny told Cline about his mother, how he’d tried to push her to shore un­til he re­al­ized that she was life­less.

“He wasn’t up­set. I think he was just in shock,” Cline said. “He never re­ally cried or noth­ing.” He put Lanny in the shower to warm up. “He couldn’t hardly talk, he was so cold,” Cline said. “I turned the water on him, then I come out and called 911.”

Soon the res­cue teams took over. Cline hadn’t even learned Lanny’s name be­fore he was flown, by helicopter, to Penin­sula Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Sal­is­bury.

Les­lie Marsh, Cline’s daugh­ter-in-law, called Al­li­son. Within 10 sec­onds, Marsh said, Al­li­son asked about Lanny’s mother.

“She was kind of hys­ter­i­cal some,” said Marsh, who lives next door to Cline. “… I think the only thing she re­ally un­der­stood was that he was alive.”

Af­ter mid­night, Lance and Al­li­son ar­rived at the hos­pi­tal.

Lance re­calls: “When I walked in, he just burst into tears. ‘Dad, I killed my mother.’ ”

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