Smithtown officials on Tuesday honored members of a dredging crew and others who made a river rescue of town employees in a situation that “could have gone really bad.”
Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said the rescuers “reacted without hesitation or concern for their own well-being” on the Nissequogue River in December. “This could have gone really bad, really quickly.”
Three town bay constables and two parks employees were on a town vessel Dec. 12 collecting channel markers at the river head. It was a routine task turned suddenly life-threatening by strong currents and a rogue wave that swamped their 26-foot boat. It took on water and capsized.
“It was quick. It was real quick,” said Joseph Link, a Parks Department mechanic who was aboard.
The water was in the mid-40s, cold enough to cause loss of dexterity within minutes. “It felt like a bathtub, because of all the adrenaline,” said Dan Landauer, a Parks Department groundskeeper. He wore “60 pounds of gear” including hip waders that filled with water and pulled him down. The water was too deep to touch bottom, and a ripping tide threatened to pull him and the others into the Long Island Sound.
Landauer took off what clothes he could and swam for shore, the only man able to do so. Link grabbed a life ring. “I probably would’ve drowned if somebody hadn’t brought a boat over,” he said. “I probably would’ve been pulled under.”
The dredgers — Jordy K. Johnson, Joseph Johnson, Keith “Marty” Ramsey, Peter Wadelton, Michael Lake, Che Daniels and Daniel Engel — worked for a Bay Shore-based company, Gibson & Cushman.
They tossed lines and yanked men up and remembered the sight: “I turned back around and I seen them floating,” Ramsey said.
Later, onshore, Kings Park Fire Department personnel removed the rescued men’s clothes and began warming them.
By the time the five got to the emergency room doctor at St. Catherine of Siena Hospital, two still had low core temperature and were shivering violently, said Robert Taglienti, the attending doctor. All were later discharged.
Before the honorary plaques and handshakes, the rescuers thought back to that day when they saved lives and went back to work.
“I had to walk down the beach pulling pipe,” Daniels said. “I think it started snowing on me . . . We was wet. Not as wet as the boys we pulled out, that’s for sure.”