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Woman reunited with hero after kayaking accident on Lake Michigan

MISHAWAKA, Ind. A woman says she was just about to let go when rescuers saved her.

51-year-old Lilia Barriga of Mishawaka was reunited with the 911 dispatcher Thursday who stayed on the phone with her while rescue boats searched the open water.

Barriga was found just before 11:30 a.m. Wednesday more than a mile from off Harbert Beach in Berrien County floating in Lake Michigan. Barriga fell off her kayak while paddling towards Chicago.

 “I was going to let go if it wasn’t for you,” said Barriga, hugging Mishawaka 911 dispatcher Becky Scheibelhut.

“I’m so proud of you for holding on and staying awake and talking,” responded Scheibelhut.

Barriga said she set off from Harbert Beach at approximately 4 a.m. Wednesday. Barriga estimated that she’s paddled on a kayak to Chicago dozens of times near the shoreline but Wednesday tried to travel in a straight line across.

“That wave came and flipped me over,” Barriga said.

Barriga, a veteran boater, said because of a motorcycle injury to her shoulder she couldn’t get herself back into the boat.

After nearly two hours of floating in the water Barriga reached for her cell phone in a waterproof bag and called her father in Mishawaka. Her father contacted Mishawaka’s dispatch center.

“Lilia do you see any boats around at all?” said Scheibelhut in a 911 recording.

“No,” said Barriga.

Scheibelhut and her colleagues contacted Berrien County to initiate the search.  

Chikaming Township Fire Department led a search and rescue effort that took approximately 45 minutes to complete.

“As the time went on especially towards the end she kept passing out,” said Scheibelhut. Barriga had been feeling symptoms of hypothermia while in the water.

 “You need to keep on talking,” said Scheibelhut in the 911 recording.

“I’m too cold,” responded Barriga in the tape.  

“I had just told her I was going to let go and I passed out,” said Barriga Thursday. “Then all of a sudden I felt someone grabbing me.”

“I kept yelling at her ‘you don’t hang up, stay on the phone, you stay there,’” said Scheibelhut. “Then all of sudden I heard a voice.”

Two minutes after Barriga went silent on the line rescuers picked up the phone

“Hello is this 911?” said a rescuer in the recording. “This is Chikaming Fire, we’ve got her.”

 “It’s amazing how many people were there that helped me,” said Barriga looking at ABC 57 News rescue footage Thursday.

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