Asking a complete stranger to sing “Jingle Bells,” recite the alphabet or count to 10 might seem silly and strange. But a Mishawaka 911 dispatcher did just that and more for an hour to try and keep a woman alive Wednesday after her boat capsized on Lake Michigan.
The woman, Lilia Barriga of Mishawaka, said she was attempting to kayak 70 miles to Chicago from Harbert Beach near Sawyer, when her kayak overturned.
Two hours after that, she called her father in Mishawaka for help. He called 911, then 911 dispatcher Becky Scheibelhut called her. More than 40 miles apart, the women made a life-saving connection.
Mishawaka Police released that recorded conversation Thursday.
One of the first things Scheibelhut asked Barriga during the phone call was where she was. But the woman didn’t know and said she could only see sand dunes.
Water was sloshing in the background during the entirety of the conversation.
Scheibelhut asked Barriga what happened, what she was wearing and if she was injured. She also worked with another Mishawaka dispatcher, Shelli Bosse, to contact dispatchers in Berrien County. A third dispatcher fielded other incoming 911 calls.
Fifteen minutes into the phone call, Scheibelhut continued talking to Barriga, but she wasn’t answering.
Scheibelhut: Are you still there Lilia? Lilia? Lilia? I can hear the water in the boat but I don't hear her. She's not responding now.
“I’ve never had anything like that,” Scheibelhut later told WSBT. “I’ve never had to keep someone on the phone like that to keep them going and keep them positive and keep them awake.”
Half an hour into the call, the dispatcher had to get creative.
BARRIGA: I want to try to sleep
Scheibelhut: OK, try and stay awake, OK? Do you know any songs you could try and sing to try and stay awake? I know it sounds silly but you need to try and stay awake, OK? Lilia?
Scheibelhut: Do you know any songs you can sing?
BARRIGA: I can't think right now.
Scheibelhut: OK, how about "Jingle Bells," do you know "Jingle Bells?" Lilia? You have to try OK? Try and stay awake. Want me to sing it with ya?
The two began singing and Scheibelhut did what she could to keep Barriga awake – asking about her house, family, dog and occasionally asking if she heard any boat motors or could see anything around her.
Still, she drifted in and out of consciousness while rescue teams from three townships, two states, two 911 dispatch centers and the U.S. Coast Guardtried to find her.
Then, 57 minutes into the call, Barriga told Scheibelhut she couldn’t hold on much longer.