A North Fork marina employee is lucky to be alive after falling off a boat Friday morning into the frigid waters of Shelter Island Sound — only to be saved by the quick actions of a ferry crew.
“Somebody got an early Christmas present,” said Stella Lagudis, general manager of the company that runs the North Ferry, operating between Shelter Island and Greenport.
The worker, identified as David Javier, 27, of Cutchogue, was recovering from hypothermia and doing well, Southold police said.
After plucking Javier from the water, the crew of the ferry Menantic transported him to Greenport, where Lagudis said an ambulance took the boater to nearby Eastern Long Island Hospital.
“They did a great job,” Shelter Island police chief James J. Read said of the ferry crew. “They saved the guy’s life.”
The crew of Menantic was leaving Greenport when they noticed a boat, about a quarter of mile away, making four or five tight circles.
“There are very few boats out at this time of the year and certainly not one that’s going to corkscrew itself into the bay,” said the Menantic’s captain, Lance Willumsen, 53, of Shelter Island.
Perhaps no one was piloting the boat, and if so, that meant whoever was operating the vessel may have fallen into the Sound, Willumsen said.
He handed his binoculars to Jared “Jerry” Gibbs, 46, the ferry’s engineer, who scanned the waters but didn’t spot anyone. Then Jason Brewer, 30, a deckhand, gave it a try.
“Jason at that point said he was pretty sure he saw a head bobbing up and down in water,” Willumsen recalled.
The ferry unloaded its passengers and vehicles, then rushed over to the spinning boat. They threw a lifesaving ring to Javier, who managed to wrap an arm around it. The crew, which included Dennis Raffelock, 70, lowered a ladder and helped Javier onto the ferry.
“He mentioned that he had gone under twice, and when he came up the second time he saw a big white ferry coming,” Willumsen said Javier told his crew.
Javier is employed by the Southold Marine Center and was transporting the boat to be hauled from the water and into winter storage when the steering locked, throwing him into the water.
From the Shelter Island Heights side, Read and Shelter Island police Officer Terrence LeGrady coordinated rescue efforts.
The entire episode took about 10 minutes, said Willumsen.
Survivability in water whose temperature is about 50 degrees is little more than one hour, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which also estimates someone in such frigid waters could become incapacitated within 30 minutes.
“The boater was on the cusp of unconsciousness when they reached him,” Lagudis said. “But he managed to get his arm into the [lifesaving] ring and the crew managed to get him aboard and to the ambulance, which got him to the hospital.
“He was not in great shape,” she said. “But everyone was just focused and it all happened in the nick of time.”
Lagudis said the ferry crew trains for such emergencies on a regular basis and said that, in fact, the crew just practiced man overboard drills Tuesday in the waters off Shelter Island.
This isn’t the first time ferry workers have saved someone who’s fallen into the water, either, Lagudis said.
About two years ago, on New Year’s Eve, she said a crew member saved someone who’d fallen from a piling along the ferry slip in Greenport.
With Jean-Paul Salamanca