This story was originally published in Newsday on Jan. 1, 1999.
Hour after dark hour, Thomas and Nicholas Famiglietti searched the murky waters off Merrick's Egg Island Wednesday night. The two brothers found the capsized boat their sibling, Anthony, had used to go clamming earlier that day, but they could find no trace of him.
Neither could the Nassau Police's Marine Bureau, which was using helicopters and diesel-powered boats to try to locate the 39-year-old auto mechanic from Freeport.
At 4:30 a.m. yesterday, the Famiglietti brothers called off the search and drove to their mother's house in Baldwin. "My sons came home crying," Connie Famiglietti recalled. "They said, 'Anthony loved the water and this is where he is. "
But while his family mourned him, Anthony Famiglietti was curled up asleep on a boathouse he had crawled to in 14-degree temperatures, after a 6-foot wave swamped his Carolina skiff Wednesday evening. He swam to shore and found the boathouse, which, he reflected yesterday afternoon, saved his life.
"The funny thing is, he slept right through it," said his sister, Maria Tamarkin. "We were all looking for him, expecting the worst. And he's sleeping. Thank God for that."
Police said it was nothing short of a miracle that Famiglietti survived the inclement weather.
"Because of the high winds and choppy ocean, the water started to come into the back of his boat," said police Officer Robert Dertinger of the Marine Bureau. "When the waves overtuned his boat, he grabbed a life preserver and swam back to the west bank of Swift Creek. He walked and found the boathouse, and it probably saved his life."
Without a cellular telephone or a radio, Famiglietti could not call his family. He set off two flares, which no one saw, from the safety of the boathouse, before turning in for the night.
His mother reported him missing to police at 9 p.m. Wednesday, when he failed to come home from work. "My sons and his friends went looking for him in the marshes, along the Meadowbrook Parkway, looking for a boat," she said. "But they didn't find anything except for the boat."
Yesterday, Marine Bureau Officers Bill Sanford, John Falbo and Joseph Frederico, who were searching for Famiglietti, noticed a second set of flares he set off at 8:55 a.m. from a boathouse anchored in the Bay of Fundy, and rescued the stranded clammer.
"He was a little cold," Dertinger said. "But he's lucky to be alive."
Anthony Famiglietti knows this in his heart. "It was a miracle I made it," a tired and sleepy Famiglietti said as he wrapped his arms around his 12-year-old daughter, Connie, in his mother's living room yesterday.
Held in the tight and warm embrace of his relatives, Famiglietti recounted a tale of survival.
The ordeal started simply enough.
"It was just another day I went into the water," said Famiglietti, who was clamming in shallow waters, braving winds packing 50-mph gusts and a falling thermometer.
By the end of the day, he realized it would be a day - and a night - like no other.
"A wave came over the front of my boat and my motor died," he said. "I had no control of the boat, the waves were slamming up and down the boat and it capsized. I jumped out when I saw it coming. Then, swam about 10 feet back to the boat."
Standing on top of the upside-down Carolina skiff, it was clear to Famiglietti he could not stay there.
"I floated a bit, but I realized I would freeze to death if I did not move," he said. "So I jumped in, swam about 75 feet to shore and walked about half a mile and went into the house.
"Once I made it to the shore, I knew I would be all right. Once inside the boathouse, I knew I would be OK."
Siri Famiglietti, a sister-in-law, said local clammers and fishermen use bayhouses, including boathouses that have run aground, as refuges when they are in trouble.
"Thank God they are there," she said. "God only knows know many lives they've saved."
Inside the boathouse, Anthony Famiglietti found a sleeping bag and a heater. All he wanted to do was get warm.
"My clothes were frozen, I was shivering. I took them off," he said. "I got into the sleeping bag, shot off two flares, could not get warm enough, but I tried to go to sleep."
Sleep came eventually, and Famiglietti woke up at 7 a.m. yesterday and resumed his search for help.
After the Marine Bureau boats found him, he made a quick phone call. "Anthony said, 'I'm OK. The police helped me, " Tamarkin recalled. "He also said, 'I lost my pants. Have sweats ready."
Now that the auto mechanic-turned-clammer and member of the Hempstead Shell Fisherman's Association is safe and sound, his mother wants him to go back to his usual job of fixing cars.
"This is a miracle," she said. "But he's very smart and he's a survivor."
Thomas Famiglietti mused that now that he's safe, family members are "ready to kill him" for scaring the life out of them. "I thought it was going to be a tragic New Year's Day for our family," he said. "It didn't look good."
But with tears running down his face, Anthony Famiglietti said he was just happy to be alive. And thankful for his family.
"My sisters, my brothers, my friends who looked for me," he said. "It's just great to know you have such great people in your life."