Her face caked with salt, a Virginia teenager calmly told how she spent the night in the Great Salt Lake Tuesday, swimming toward the lights of Kennecott after her companion became fatigued nearly six miles out.
Jyl Freeman, 18, Herndon, Va., pulled herself ashore about daybreak Tuesday and directed searchers toward the area where she left her 16-year-old friend sometime during the night.A search-and-rescue crew found Robert Kevin Chang, of Fairfax, Va., on a sandbar near the Great Salt Lake State Park pier early Tuesday, ending an overnight test of endurance that began with an evening swim 13 hours earlier. Chang was found in good shape, suffering only from exposure-related conditions. Freeman was dressed in warm clothes and waiting for him when the rescue boat came ashore.
Chang's good condition - that he was even alive - surprised some searchers and provided an upbeat ending to a effort that many believed would involve pulling a body from the Great Salt Lake.
"They've been swimming all night," said Salt Lake County sheriff's Lt. Lee Smith with some incredulity.
En route to California, the friends stopped at the Great Salt Lake during the last leg of a cross-country trip. They entered the water about 7 p.m. Monday, intending to swim to one of the islands and return by nightfall.
"We didn't know it was that far," said Freeman, an art student. "We didn't know whether to head back or keep going (once it became dark)."
In her description of the ordeal, Freeman spoke of Stansbury Island but gestured toward Antelope Island. That same discrepancy initially plagued the search when crews weren't sure in which direction the couple had swum.
"We kept swimming to the island, thinking that was the closer shore," she said.
Visibility was good while the moon was out, but it quickly became dark when clouds moved in, she said. Chang, who had earlier voiced concern about not being a strong swimmer, became fatigued and eventually told her he was having trouble keeping his legs moving.
"He said, `Just go ahead, go ahead and get help,' " Freeman said. "I was pretty optimistic about the whole thing at first."
For nearly an hour, she swam holding Chang's hand, pulling him back toward shore, but eventually they split up and would call to each other across the water for encouragement, she said. For the last two hours, when he stopped answering, she continued to swim toward the lights of the Kennecott stack.
Freeman kept up a strong pace most of the night. Once a member of a high school swim team, the Virginia teen said she actually disliked the team experience and doesn't often enjoy swimming.
Neither wore a life preserver of any sort. Freeman said they were aware of the lake's buoyancy but didn't realize it would make the water feel thicker and perhaps make them tire more quickly.
Being older than Chang, Freeman said she also felt responsible for his safety - "A lot of that motivated me to swim faster," she said.