By Kevin Redding
A Bay Shore-based dredging crew sprung into action while working on the Nissequogue River in December when a boat capsized, hurling five Town of Smithtown employees into the frigid waters. For their heroic efforts, the seven-man crew, responding medical professionals and first responders, were honored by Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) during a special ceremony at town hall Jan. 30.
“A first responder’s primary duty is to protect all others before self,” Wehrheim said before presenting plaques to the heroes. “But, when unforeseen conditions put the lives of first responders at risk, who protects them?”
“I was just trying to keep my head above the surface.”
— Joseph Link
It started out as a routine day for three bay constables and two parks employees as they steered their vessel around the head of the river Dec. 12 removing buoys. While attempting to pull a seventh buoy from the water, however, a rogue wave came crashing in from Long Island Sound. It flooded the boat, overturning it in a matter of seconds. All five employees struggled to swim the 40-feet to shore against the rough current.
“I couldn’t get anywhere, the waters were way too strong,” said Joseph Link, of one of the rescued employees. Link said he wasn’t wearing a life jacket at the time as it obstructed his work. “I was just trying to keep my head above the surface.”
Sgt. Charles Malloy, a senior bay constable, said he faced different dangers when he was knocked overboard.
“I was swimming away from the rear of the boat because the motors were still engaged and the propellers were still spinning and within arm’s reach,” Malloy said.
Luckily, members from Gibson & Cushman Dredging Company were about 500 yards away when the accident occurred, setting up equipment by the river’s bluff. Once they saw the boat capsize, the crew acted quickly.
“We just grabbed some lines or whatever else we could find and started throwing them out to pull them toward us,” said dredger Keith Ramsey.
They yanked four of the five stranded employees onto their boat. One member, Dan Landauer, managed to swim back to shore on his own.
“It was just our reaction,” said dredger Che Daniels. “We saw that people were in the water. The water was cold, like 40 degrees [Fahrenheit]. The wind was blowing. We were just doing what we would do for anybody on our crew if something were to happen like that.”
Upon reaching the shore, Kings Park volunteer firefighters and Kings Park EMS responders rushed to the scene. Two men were treated for hypothermia and exposure. All were transported to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center and out of the hospital within an hour without any lasting injuries.
“We were just doing what we would do for anybody on our crew if something were to happen like that.”
— Che Daniels
Paul Taglienti, director of emergency medical service at St. Catherine’s, was honored during the ceremony. He said his staff’s job had been about 95 percent done for them. “This was a circumstance where I think everything was done pretty much ideally,” Taglienti said. “They were rescued very quickly and we just kept an eye on them to make sure everyone was OK.”
Wehrheim was joined by town council members Lisa Inzerillo (R) and Tom McCarthy (R), to present proclamations to all seven members of Gibson & Cushman — Daniel Engel, Daniels, Michael Lake, Jordy Johnson, Joseph Johnson, Ramsey and Peter Wadelton — although only Ramsey and Daniels were on hand to accept them.
“I was glad when I heard they helped out, but I also would expect that from them,” said Matthew Grant, supervisor of the dredging crew’s project. “If something happens, we help out. Not many people are out on the water at that time of year, so it was a good thing we were there.”
Those rescued echoed the sentiment.
“If it wasn’t for the dredge crew — use your imagination,” Malloy said. “The outcome would’ve been far more tragic.”
Landauer also expressed his gratitude.
“There wasn’t a hiccup in anything they did, they saw us and boom — they jumped right on it,” he said. “I hope they never have to do it again, but I’m very glad that they were there that day.”