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Sailor’s Wife Meets Reporter, Pilot Who Helped Rescue Husband

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Mary Kovats hugs CBS 2 reporter Kris Habermehl, who helped police crews locate her husband, Peter, and their friend William McCollum, when Peter's sailboat tipped over in Lake Michigan. Habermehl and Chopper 2 HD pilot Jeff Fair helped guide a rescue boat to the floundering sailboat's location. (Credit: CBS)

Mary Kovats hugs CBS 2 reporter Kris Habermehl, who helped police crews locate her husband, Peter, and their friend William McCollum, when Peter’s sailboat tipped over in Lake Michigan. Habermehl and Chopper 2 HD pilot Jeff Fair helped guide a rescue boat to the floundering sailboat’s location. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – A day after her husband and his friend were rescued from their floundering boat in Lake Michigan, a Chicago woman thanked the CBS 2 chopper pilot and reporter who spotted them and called for help.

As CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports, Peter Kovats, 62, and his friend William McCollum, 63, were sailing on the lake Wednesday afternoon when their boat tipped over, leaving them clinging to the vessel, trying desperately to right the boat.

CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl spotted the two men from Chopper 2 HD, so he and pilot Jeff Fair called for help and then helped guide police rescue crews to the boat’s location, just east of Montrose Harbor.

boat rescue 2 0418 Sailors Wife Meets Reporter, Pilot Who Helped Rescue Husband

A pair of sailors wave to Chopper 2 HD as it hovers over their boat, which tipped on its side on Lake Michigan on April 18, 2012. Chopper 2 helped direct rescue boats to the spot where the boat flipped. (Credit: CBS)

Kovats and McCollum were hospitalized after spending at least 20 minutes in the cold, choppy water of Lake Michigan.

Kovats’ wife, Mary, said Peter was doing okay on Thursday. She also met Habermehl and Fair in person to thank them for helping save Peter’s life.

“I can’t even tell you how grateful I am. I’m must so lucky that you were there,” she told Habermehl and Fair after hugging both of them when they arrived at her home on Thursday. “It’s amazing what you did. I can’t imagine from watching the footage.”

Habermehl said, “We were just as pleased as anything that we were there, too.”

Mary Kovats, Habermehl and Fair all agreed it was almost like divine intervention that Chopper 2 HD was in the air Wednesday when Peter Kovats’ sailboat “Peter Pan” tipped over.

Peter Kovats and McCollum ended up clinging to the side of the boat, trying desperately to stay afloat.

boat rescue 4 0418 Sailors Wife Meets Reporter, Pilot Who Helped Rescue Husband

The boaters hung from the side of the boat for at least 20 minutes as they waited for a police rescue boat to arrive. (Credit: CBS)

Habermehl and CBS 2 staff called 911 to report the boat in trouble. As a police rescue boat headed out, Habermehl and Fair guided the boat to the floundering sailboat by hovering close to the two men.

A police diver helped pull the men to safety.

Both Mary and Peter Kovats are experienced sailors. Mary said it undoubtedly would have taken police crews longer to find her husband if Habermehl and Fair had not helped.

“Oh yeah, absolutely. Knowing where they were and having them hovering and having the guys know, who waved to you, absolutely,” she said.

Although someone else had already called 911 when Habermehl spotted the boaters in the water, the initial report had provided an inaccurate location for the sailboat, so police could not spot the boat right away, until after Habermehl and Fair helped them find it.

About 20 minutes after Habermehl and Fair spotted the two men, police crews pulled them into a rescue boat.

Habermehl, who is also a firefighter and EMT when he’s not reporting from Chopper 2 HD, said the rescue came just in time – especially considering the rescued sailors are both in their 60s.

“They were getting tired. They were getting beat up by the wind and wave action, and it wasn’t too much longer before they’re not going to be able to hold on any longer,” Habermehl said.

It was the second time in less than a year that Peter Kovats was rescued from Lake Michigan after his boat overturned. Last May, Mary herself came to her husband’s rescue after the boat capsized when he was caught in a storm on Lake Michigan.

She didn’t want to discuss the particulars of the latest accident, acknowledging it’s been a difficult year.

She said that her husband is doing fine, physically, and undergoing routine testing after spending so long in water no warmer than about 50 degrees.

“He’s fine. He slept last night,” she said.

The Kovats are both experienced sailors, and even went sailing on their first date 25 years ago.

Mary said they’ll continue to sail, despite the two accidents, but “we’ll probably be looking into a bigger boat.”

She said they will keep the “Peter Pan,” the boat that tipped over in both accidents.

Mary Kovats said she is also extremely grateful to Chicago Police Marine Unit officers who pulled her husband from the water. She said, without their amazingly fast response under the circumstances, she isn’t sure her husband and their friend would have survived.

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