GAINESVILLE — Out in his kayak, Wayne Mock feels close to God. Few boats, no radios, limited distractions.
Every other day, Mock takes his red kayak out on Lake Lanier, even when temperatures drop below freezing.
Monday afternoon’s weather took a turn that made Mock want to head back. A wave struck the 70-year-old kayaker and the boat capsized.
“I kept pushing on the kayak, but every time I tried to push it, I would go down under the water,” Mock said.
The Hall County resident, who is retired from the Atlanta Police Department and the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, realized the current was taking him out to the channel of the Chattahoochee River.
After two hours in the water and more than a mile of effort swimming to land, Mock’s frozen feet landed on the point of the closed Chestnut Ridge Park.
“I dug the dirt and put dirt and leaves around my feet. I thought that might thaw me out. And that’s the last thing I remember,” said Mock, adding he thought the shoreline would allow him to get back in his boat.
He woke up in hospital room at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Braselton.
“Dang, they got flatscreens in heaven!” was one of the kayaker’s first thoughts.
Wednesday, Mock gathered with law enforcement, firefighters and 911 officials to thank them for saving his life.
“They risked their lives to save mine,” Mock said.
John Hanes, a 911 call operator, first got the call from Mock’s wife, Pam, about 4:45 p.m., saying her husband hadn’t returned from his kayak ride.
“Later during the process, our supervisor got a hold of his cellphone provider and was pinging his phone for location on a regular basis, which helped narrow down the search area,” Hanes said.
The Hall County Sheriff’s Office, Fire Services and the Department of Natural Resources got information about the call. The ping allowed sheriff’s personnel to build a perimeter for the search.
“When you’ve got large bodies of water, it really does make it difficult, but that’s our main goal,” said Sr. Sgt. Jeremy Orme.
Marine Rescue 1 headed to Van Pugh Park with the phone’s GPS coordinates, though visibility was poor toward nightfall. DNR called Pam Mock every time a cove was cleared.
“The wind was so high that day. The chop was so high that day,” said Lt. Tim Drake, who was the acting battalion chief for the fire department. “It was blowing sleet and the fog had set in.”
On the last pass, Drake said one sergeant had “seen something out of the corner of his eye.”
“As they got closer, they realized it was the kayak,” he said.
Mock’s clothing was “his downfall,” Drake said.
Mock was wearing a soaked brown jumpsuit covered in dirt and leaves.
“When somebody gets hypothermic, they start getting confused,” Drake said. “Their mentation is not as well as it should be. He was thinking survival instead of thinking being found.”
Pam Mock sat down to pray about 6:30 p.m. saying, “If you don’t find him before dark, he’s going to die.”
“A couple of minutes later, there was a knock on the door and they said he was found,” Pam Mock said.
Mock and first responders said minutes made the difference in the 70-year-old’s outcome. He lauded the county officials and their equipment for responding effectively.
“You want me to write a check for the boat? I’ll get you one this afternoon. That’s how I feel about it,” Mock said.