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Boaters, Heroes: They Jumped To Save Two Men After A Boat Crash On Lake Of The Ozarks

Jack Koerner and Cole Coffin were face-down in the water, and these boaters didn't hesitate.

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Justin Lakso & His Crew

“They’re gonna turn, they’re gonna turn… and they didn’t. They hit it.”

Justin Lakso was with family and friends aboard his Sea Ray Sundancer on Lake of the Ozarks, and they watched in shock as a PWC with two young men aboard plowed into the starboard side of the boat in front of them, on Saturday, June 13, 2020.

Lakso lives with his family in Union, Mo. and says they come to Lake of the Ozarks nearly every summer weekend to go boating. They keep their Sea Ray at Mermaid Cove Marina. That’s where they were headed Saturday evening when they saw the dramatic collision just a couple hundred yards off their bow. “I saw the jet ski darted out, headed south out of a cove just past Coffman Beach.” The PWC was going at a “good rate of speed… I said, ‘Man they’re going to run right into that boat!’” That boat was an Envision, and Lakso said when the PWC slammed into the side of it, the boat’s occupants seemed bewildered. They turned the boat around to see what had happened, he recalled.

Meanwhile, Lakso took the helm from his 16-year-old son, who had been piloting the Sea Ray, and moved his boat closer to the scene. When they arrived, he said both of the PWC’s occupants—21-year-old Jack Koerner, a starting safety for the Iowa Hawkeyes, and 21-year-old Cole Coffin, of West Des Moines—were face-down in the water. Lakso killed the engine and says almost instantly his friend Jennifer Scott dove into the water. Jennifer, a nurse, and her husband Jesse were passengers on Lakso’s boat, and on June 13, they became heroes. 

“She saved the day until first responders could get there,” Lakso said.

Jesse was in the water soon after Jennifer, and they were joined by a woman from the Envision who Lakso thought had some emergency training as well. Those three kept the badly-wounded and unconscious men—who were wearing life jackets—face-up and secure in the critical minutes before emergency responders arrived.

While those three tended to the two men, Lakso called 911. Moments later, he said a conservation officer happened to pass by; he radioed the Highway/Water Patrol to direct them to the scene and called for a medical helicopter.

Lakso said it was clear both of the men had been hit by the Envision’s propeller: one had serious cuts on his face, and the other had a badly gashed leg. Their PWC was slashed as well, and was quickly sinking. “It was cut up and shredded,” Lakso said. The two injured men began to regain consciousness around the time a Rocky Mount Fire boat arrived, Lakso recalled, and both seemed confused about what had happened.

The trouble was getting Coffin—who had the most severe injuries—safely to medical care without moving him more than necessary. Boats had begun to congregate near the scene, and one had a swim deck, which sits at the water level. Coffin was floated onto the swim deck, and then transported to the shore by that boat, Lakso said. There he was loaded into a helicopter and flown to University Hospital. The firefighters were able to get Koerner on a gurney in the water, Lakso added, and transported him to a waiting ambulance on land. A Missouri State Highway Patrol boat towed the nearly-submerged PWC to shore.

Were it not for the courage and quick response of those three boaters who leapt into the water, Lakso thinks the two men might not have survived. “It’s amazing people would jump in the water to save a complete stranger without any second thoughts,” Lakso mused. He tried to convince Jennifer to give an interview, but she declined: she didn’t want any recognition.

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