Phyllis Kopytko -
"Its been perfect, lets rent that boat one last time
Im the survivor of a propeller strike. I write also on behalf of my husband, Bob,
and Paul, the fishing guide, as this is the story of three strikes by the same boat. Their
strikes were fatal. The accident was a freak occurrence, and the worst of its type on the
lake. My husband and I were enjoying a wonderfully romantic and peaceful vacation on Table
Rock Lake in Missouri. It was our 19th anniversary and all we wanted was to spend time
together enjoying nature, each other, the beauty and serenity of the lake, and fishing. We
hired a trained, licensed, and certified fishing guide and his 18-foot bass boat, powered
by a 200 hp outboard propeller driven engine. He had taken us out on Thursday and we
enjoyed it so much we decided to stay an extra day and hire him one last time on Saturday
June 11, 1994.
Bob & I were well-trained and avid boaters. None of us in the boat that day were
novices, and we were NOT imbibing in alcohol or drugs. We were just boating and fishing.
Its not what you know. A series of events lead to all three of us being thrown from
the boat that Saturday. The now empty boat, still running and in gear, was in a hard right
turn and circling tightly in what we now call "the circle of death."
When we surfaced, Bob and I located each other and were talking across the water. We
were fine. Suddenly, Bob yelled that the boat was coming at me from behind. I spun around
and saw the bow of the boat coming straight at me. I pushed (with both arms at the time)
off the bow of the boat and went under, curling myself into a ball to avoid the propeller.
I was tossed about and stripped of my clothing due to the force of the propeller but
escaped. I surfaced and yelled to Bob that I was okay. He warned me that the boat was
"at me AGAIN". I again pushed myself away from the boat, worried mostly about my
legs and the path of the open propeller. This time I was inside a whirlpool, spiraling
downward, fighting to swim to the surface. As I surfaced, I could not avoid the propeller.
In fact I was sucked into it. It slashed my left arm, my back and breast, and continued
down, slashing my left buttocks, grabbing my left hip and thigh and chewing down through
the bone. I was swimming as hard as I could with my undamaged right side until I cleared
the prop. I yelled to Bob to watch out for the propeller. The next time I saw him, he was
floating in the water, seemingly resting. As heroes pulled him aboard the boat, I saw that
his left leg was shredded from the knee down. He had died. I later discovered, our guide,
was mowed down from behind by the boat and its spinning propeller. He also died.
For them, the propeller caused death. For me it caused much more. Through great will,
faith, determination, and support, and an unsurpassed medical and family team, I am a
functioning human being, and adjusting to a completely different life. I am typing this
with my remaining arm, the right one, as my left arm had to be amputated above the elbow.
I lost all but 1 pint of my body's blood. My body absorbed 29 lake bacteria. I had a plate
in my left leg under which the bone miraculously regenerated. After being initially
hospitalized for ten weeks, of which the first six were spent far from my home, I went
from a wheelchair, to a cane, to a scooter. I had to get leg/foot braces to assist in
slowing down the deterioration of my muscles. In 1997, my left leg bone became infected
(as well as the plate) and I was hospitalized for three months undergoing extreme
antibacterial bone marrow treatments, which saved my left leg bone. In 1998, my left hip
collapsed and my hip was removed. My sister gave up her job, and changed her familys
entire lifestyle to care for me for over 11 years. I remained in physical, occupational,
and psychological therapy for over 8 years, still receiving occasional maintenance
When I was on my deathbed, I said I wanted to make boating safe for others. "If
just one life could be saved". Ive had 34 reconstructive surgeries, and I
believe that Im alive today and left here to serve a purpose, perhaps this is it: To
warn others of exposed propeller dangers, and to work to make it mandatory for all boats
to have safety equipment installed and regulated for use. Such items are propeller guards,
mandatory use of engine shutoff switches (lanyard or remote kill switches), ladder
interlocks, sensors, etc. As a director/member of SPIN I find my participation
"healing". I appear at meetings, address legislators, train the public, and give
Your story of a propeller strike can help inform.
As a victim of a propeller strike, we know retelling your story is reliving it. This is
hard. You want to put it behind you, focus on the healing, on the future and to make the
best of what you have left. We respect that. However, you can help SPIN by telling your
story. You may just reach out with the story that prevents the next accident and saves a
future propeller victim. Your story will reach the U.S.Coast Guard and be available to
policy makers and legislators.