The Contreras family had spent a couple hours out on the Great South Bay off Bay Shore when their boat started taking on water. Quickly.
Juan Contreras, 33, of Bellport, was operating the 18-foot Stingray when the engine stalled about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Suffolk police said. Suddenly, Contreras, his two young daughters, his mother and sister were in the water and clinging to the partially submerged boat, waving their arms and shouting to a nearby vessel.
"We yelled, 'Help! Help!' " Juan's sister, Guadalupe Contreras, 47, of Bay Shore, said Monday as she recalled the drama, noting all five family members wore life jackets.
Jason Deak, 21; his brother, Justin Deak, 18; and their friend Mike LaDuca, 23 -- all volunteer firefighters at the West Islip Fire Department -- were off-duty and returning home with William Deak, 47, the Deaks' father, on their 21-foot Wellcraft from a day of tubing, when they thought they saw something odd -- a paddle boarder or maybe a lobster pot?
Justin Deak backed the boat up to the Contreras family and his dad stood by to pull them aboard. Jason Deak, a member of the department's dive team, and LaDuca put on life vests and jumped into the water. First rescued was the youngest of the Contreras clan, Juan's daughter Angeline, 7.
"She couldn't swim; She was just floating away," said Jason Deak, a criminal justice major at Suffolk County Community College and an NYPD hopeful. "She was just holding her sandals, floating away. I pulled her onto my back and I told her to hold my neck . . . and then I said, 'Don't let go.' "
Angeline's big sister, Cristine, 11, said her little sister was afraid: "She like kind of freaked out. She's like, 'Oh my God. I think we're going to die.' I was trying to make her feel better. I was like, 'Calm down, everything's going to be all right.' "
The rescuers used a large inflated tube attached to a rope to pull the other family members, who seemed "nervous," to the boat, Jason Deak said. They wrapped Juan's mother, Maria Contreras, 69, in a blanket.
Justin Deak, an incoming freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate Troy, said the rescue was "kind of like instinct; as soon as we get under pressure, we just remember our training."
Three boats from the Suffolk police Marine Bureau and vessels from the Bay Shore and West Islip fire departments responded, police said. The Contreras family was moved to one of the police boats and taken to Heckscher State Park in East Islip, where they refused medical attention, police said. The officers towed the boat out of the water, police said.
The Contreras family, meanwhile, said they're not afraid to go out on the water again. And they're thankful, as Guadalupe Contreras put it: "It's good to have people like this in the country -- people that like to help other people."
With John Valenti