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Search called off for missing woman

Susan Wood, Appeal News Service

With three deaths in four days, drownings this year on Lake Tahoe are triple the annual average. Marine authorities have three words for water enthusiasts — personal flotation devices.

The search for Janis Sauer has been called off. The 50-year-old San Carlos woman became missing Wednesday evening after a 22-foot Correct Craft ski boat filled with nine people not wearing PFDs capsized off of Cave Rock.

“This is the key to boat safety,” Nevada Division of Wildlife Warden Paul Dankowski said Sunday of the lifesaving tool.

The department is the lead agency investigating the boat incident.

The state division joined Tahoe-Douglas and South Lake Tahoe fire departments, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Placer County Marine, and the search-and -rescue units of Alpine, El Dorado, Washoe and Douglas counties in the search.

After using patrol boats, a SAR dog and underwater cameras, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department called off the three-day search for Sauer at 4:45 p.m. Friday. Her husband, Charles, also died in the accident.

Dankowski cautioned boaters that the lake’s size makes it difficult to judge the weather from one side to the other. When his unit went out on patrol Thursday, the water was glassy on the West Shore but choppy on the East Shore, he said.

The tourists from the Bay area rented the boat at 2:30 p.m. at the High Sierra Water Ski School in the Sunnyside Marina in Tahoe City. Two hours later, the group was in swells caused by 15 to 20 mph wind gusts, according to the National Weather Service in Reno. A wind advisory had been issued over the lake.

The ski boat — which carried its maximum limit of nine people — was swamped. It’s now in the hands of Nevada investigators, who anticipate the full report issued within two weeks.

After that, the boat will be taken out of an impound yard and turned over to Sunnyside.

No charges are expected to be filed in the incident, Dankowski said.

Lake Tahoe has about two drownings a year. Hypothermia is the biggest killer, as the water — averaging 57 to 60 degrees — is colder than most lakes and 40 degrees colder than the human body.

Resistance to hypothermia varies, but there are cases that amaze first responders.

South Lake Tahoe boat patrollers Steve O’Brien and Chuck Short were surprised by the survival of a 70-year-old man whose wooden boat sank off the shores of Regan Beach a few years ago.

He was in the water for more than an hour, and marine authorities believe his PFD saved him.