TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. - It started out as a picturesque Sunday afternoon on the water. Karlin O'Neill was taking her new blue kayak out for a spin off the shore of Tarpon Springs. Family members were just ahead.
"This boat went by and part of the wake, I went right into it. It almost tipped my kayak, but I only lost the paddle," Karlin explained.
She tried shouting at her family and even gave a whistle onboard a shot. She'd underestimated her distance, and her calls for help were unanswered. She floated alone for hours, wandering into the night.
"The moonlight, the way it was hitting the waves, it looked like it was sharks or something and that really freaked me out," she recalled.
Eight hours later, the U.S. Coast Guard finally spotted her about four miles off shore. Dressed in only a swimsuit, she'd wrapped her body in two life jackets to keep warm and was placing her hands on either side of the kayak to steady it against the waves.
A Coast Guard team used night vision goggles to zero in her on her location as she frantically paddled with her hands to a rescue boat.
"The survivor did everything right. She stayed with the kayak, she had her life jacket on. She luckily had water bottles on board, she didn't attempt to swim ashore," U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Frank Cheske said Monday.
Worried family members' fears were finally put to rest as the 17-year old was brought to shore.
Today, Karlin is exhausted but overwhelmingly grateful to her newfound heroes, the U.S. Coast Guard.
"Thank you. I've never wanted to hug someone so bad in my life!" she smiled.
Karlin says she does plan to kayak again, but she says next time, she'll stay close to loved ones.