Two Smithtown friends in a canoe drifted in the rough waters of Long Island Sound for up to two hours Friday night, calling 911 after their vessel overturned and guiding rescuers with the light of a waning cellphone, Suffolk County police said.
Cortland Terris, 22, and Michael Small, 21, were in life jackets, holding on to the overturned canoe and a cooler, when marine bureau officers Nick Divaris and Pete Bogachunas arrived to pull them onto their boat, two miles off Short Beach in Nissequogue, police said.
"When we grabbed them, they were cold and they were tired, but not enough to go to the hospital," Bogachunas said.
When the torrential rain, lightning and wind hit, the two tried for up to two hours to paddle back to where they started on the Nissequogue River, police said. But the river currents there are "fierce," Bogachunas said, and the two would never have been able to paddle back into the river.
The water soon flooded the boat and it capsized, forcing Terris to call for help at 8:53 p.m..
911 operator Kim Swan asked them to get their longitude and latitude off their cellphone GPS, and Divaris and Bogachunas were in nearby Northport when they got the call.
"When it's dark like that, it's hard to find them," said Bogachunas, a 25-year veteran. "It's big in the Sound and you're not going to pick them up on radar, especially since it [the canoe] was sunk."
In fact, the officers were searching closer to shore, thinking they would be a half mile or so out. But when the officers got the GPS location, they discovered it was more like two miles out.
As the officers got closer to the GPS location, they asked the men if they could see the blue lights on their police boat. The two, who were about a quarter of a mile away, said yes and that is when Terris decided to turn on his cellphone light, even though it had only 20 percent battery left, Bogachunas said.
"We saw him holding his flashlight up," the officer said. "They got very lucky that they had that flashlight. He used his cellphone flashlight and that's how we kind of saw where they were.''
Terris was pulled in and Small, wearing a "Wanted Dead" T-shirt, practically jumped right into the boat, Bogachunas said.
The pair had been in the water for about half an hour after their canoe overturned, police said. The men, their canoe and their cooler were taken to the Kings Park boat ramp, where the rescued boaters refused medical attention, police said.
"They were nice kids," Bogachunas said. "They just didn't think."