Heroes Fight Frigid Temps, Rough Surf To Save Kayaker Swept Out To Sea

WESTHAMPTON BEACH, NY— A team of angels jumped into action Sunday afternoon to save a kayaker swept out into the Atlantic Ocean from Moriches Inlet.

John Dalen, chief of the Eastport Fire Department, told Patch that at 12:08 p.m., a call came in about a kayaker in distress whose vessel had overturned in the inlet.

The kayaker had been out seal watching when he got swept away, Dalen said.

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The man, who was in his 60s, was in the “dead center” of the inlet and about a quarter of a mile out into the ocean as currents pulled him out to sea, Dalen said. “Thee was no way he was coming back in,” he said.

The kayaker had been with a friend, who initially called the Westhampton Beach Fire Department and said his “buddy had gotten swept out,” Dalen said. “He last saw him going through the inlet.”

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The friend called for help from a small, portable handheld radio, Dalen said.

While the fire department vessels were en route, a Suffolk County Police helicopter was able to locate the man ocean side just outside the inlet, Dalen said.

An Eastport Fire Department vessel, with ex-Chief Mark Yakaboski as the coxswain, along with his three-member crew, including former Chief Ryan King, Lt. Joseph Dalen, and John Dalen, were able to transit the inlet in less than 10 minutes and rescue the victim from the water.

Lt Dalen, John’s son and a rescue swimmer, entered the water to assist recovering the man who was suffering from “severe” hypothermia and could not stand or lift his head after having been in the frigid water for at least 40 minutes; he was wearing a wetsuit, Dalen said.

“Due to the victim’s inability to assist in getting into the vessel, ex-Chief Ryan King assisted the victim into the vessel,” Dalen said.

The man was initially treated as the rescue vessel transported him to the East Moriches Coast Guard Station. Multiple fire department units, along with county coordinators and East Moriches Ambulance personnel, were waiting at the command post and assisted in removing the man from the vessel, Dalen said. He was then transported to a waiting Suffolk County police helicopter and airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital for medical care.

“This was another successful multi-agency response from the surrounding fire departments,” Dalen said.

The response was immediate, Dalen said. Explaining that the United States Coast Guard East Moriches is closed for rescues during the winter months —and is only open for rescues from Friday through Sunday during the summer — calls typically go through the U.S. Coast Guard Station Shinnecock.

But in recent months, Dalen said local fire departments and police have been working with the USCG to create the new “Moriches Bay Marine Task Force,” with members from the East Moriches, Mastic, Mastic Beach, Center Moriches, Eastport, and Westhampton Beach Fire Departments teaming up for emergency water rescues.

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The fire departments have also attended state swift water rescue operation training, as well as surface water rescue classes, Dalen said.

On Sunday, Dalen said, Westhampton Beach Chief Darryl Schunk was in command of the operation and oversaw the operations at the East Moriches Coast Guard Station, which was designated as the command post location.

“It’s a great thing to have all the fire departments and police working together,” Dalen said.

The Eastport Fire Department, he said, purchased a used Coast Guard 25-foot secure all-around flotation equipped, or SAFE, vessel; the rescue effort commenced with the four-person crew.

Describing the tumultuous conditions, Dalen said: “It was 3-to-4 foot waves, going through the inlet — it was really rough. We couldn’t even see him at first —if it hadn’t been for the Suffolk County police helicopter, we wouldn’t have seen him.”

The officer in the helicopter threw the man a flotation device, but because he was hypothermic, he couldn’t grab it; later, the crew on the boat also threw him a line but he was unable to grab that, too, Dalen said.

Finally, rescuers were able to pull him up onto the boat and bring him to the waiting helicopter at the USCG station, Dalen said.

If it wasn’t for the rapid coordination of the Moriches Bay Task Force, Dalen said, the day might have ended in tragedy. “This was definitely a success rescue. If we hadn’t been activated, this could have turned out very differently.”

Dalen, who served with the USCG for 22-and-a-half years, said the rescue still filled his heart with joy — even more so, seeing his son work to carry on the tradition of dedicated service.

“My son is still on Cloud 9,” Dalen said. “He said, ‘Dad, that was awesome. Now I know how you felt all those years.'”

To other kayakers, while Dalen said it is not advisable to go out when the water is so cold and rough, if they do venture out, they should not go alone, should bring a portable radio, wear a wetsuit and safety equipment, and have a float plan.

In addition, he said, kayakers should wear bright colors — the man rescued was all in black and was spotted by his bright red kayak, about 20 to 30 yards away.

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