Missing teen kayaker tells survival story

Posted at 5:24 PM, Apr 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-12 06:41:40-04

We are hearing from a missing kayaker found Sunday near Tarpon Springs. 


Karlin O’Neill, 17, said she got separated from her family during a kayaking trip when she was waked by a boat, causing her to lose her paddle. The teen says she was stuck at sea for eight hours.


Karlin’s mom, Rachel Kalista, said they were kayaking from Fred Howard Park to Anclote Key. Kalista said she knew something was wrong when she didn’t see her daughter at the shore.


“I thought my daughter turned around to go back to the shore. When I got back there I didn’t find her, so we called 911,” she said. 


Tarpon police called out fire rescue and the U.S. Coast Guard to help with the search.


“It’s a life or death situation. Finding someone in the water is like finding a needle in a hay stack,” said petty officer and rescue swimmer Jake Garbrec. 


As the hours passed it seemed like an eternity to both Karlin and her mom, fearing the worst.


“I was really thinking of the different scenarios of what could happen,” Karlin said. She says as night fell it got cold. With nothing but a bathing suit on she used life jackets to keep warm. 


Her mom said, “It was really scary. I was really worried she was afraid or hurt.”


Karlin says she knew crews were looking for her. She didn’t have her cellphone but says she tried her hardest to stay calm. She says every time a boat or a helicopter passed she would try flagging them down for help.


They flew over a few times and didn't notice me. Then I think it was like the third or fourth time, they put their spotlight on and could see me,” she said. 


Finally, a glimmer of hope. A Coast Guard helicopter spotted the teen using night vision goggles. Lt. Frank Cheske said Karlin did all the right things.


She stayed with the kayak, she had her life jacket on. She had water and food on board and didn't attempt to swim to shore,” he said.  


Now she’s reunited with her mom and has quite the survival story to tell. Most of all, she’s thankful she’s alive.


“I feel really lucky. I mean it could've been a lot worse than what it was," she said.


Her mom says when she finally saw her daughter she cried and gave her a big hug, letting her know everything would be OK.


Rescue crews say Karlin was in stable condition when they found her with signs of mild hypothermia. Her body is also sunburned. 


The Coast Guard says if she would have had a personal locator beacon crews would have likely found her faster. 


The most important thing is she stayed calm and is now back with her family.