Dogs, owner saved from icy death at Long Point
Wesley Nagy and friends rescued by firefighters
West Tisbury firefighter Greg Pachico prepares to crawl across the ice to Wesley Nagy, who is in the water being supported by firefighter Jesse Oliver. Photo by Laura Lacina
Sunday's beautiful weather and a temperature that approached 60 degrees lured many Islanders to the shore. For musician Wesley Nagy and his wife, Lisa, a late afternoon walk with the couple's dogs became a brush with death.
They were walking at The Trustees Long Point reservation in West Tisbury, when their two dogs ran out on the ice in pursuit of ducks sitting at the water's edge. The dogs fell through the ice into Tisbury Great Pond.
In a vain effort to save the dogs from drowning Mr. Nagy crawled out on the ice. He too fell into the frigid water.
Quick action by another couple out walking, and the speedy arrival of West Tisbury firefighters specially trained in ice rescues, saved Mr. Nagy and the two dogs.
Mr. Nagy, the organist at Grace Church, was airlifted Sunday night to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He was released Tuesday and is now home in Vineyard Haven recovering from his ordeal. The Nagys said they are thankful to everyone who assisted in the rescue and its aftermath and for the outpouring of concern.
Wesley Nagy is placed into a waiting Tri Town ambulance after rescue personnel pulled him from icy Tisbury Great Pond.
Ms. Nagy, a physician and public relations director for the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, said she and her husband had visited friends at the Red Pony Farm riding stable that day. The couple decided to take advantage of the nice day and visit The Trustees of Reservation Long Point Wildlife Refuge, adjacent to Tisbury Great Pond.
Although several signs ask that all dogs be kept on a leash, she said that once they were near the beach they decided to let the dogs romp and have a little unfettered fun. Buster, a shepherd-husky mix, and Julius, a black Labrador, walked out on the ice, ignoring calls to return.
After the dogs spotted ducks on the water at the edge of the ice they gave chase and either fell through the ice or jumped into the water. Ms. Nagy said the dogs quickly realized they were in trouble and began to cry.
Ms. Nagy decided to go for help. Thinking that Julius and Buster would not survive, she asked her husband to stay and provide some comfort by speaking to the dogs.
She drove to the first occupied house she could find and found electrician Joe DiNallo, who had had just arrived home with his girlfriend Laura Lacina. He dialed 911 and Ms. Nagy explained the situation to the dispatcher. She then drove to the Red Pony riding stable to seek the assistance of friends.
West Tisbury police received a report of two dogs in the water at approximately 6:13 pm and were asked to assist the animal control officer in rescuing the animals. Sergeant Dan Rossi and officer Garrison Viera responded.
A short time later Martha Moore, who lives on the pond near the TTOR property, spotted what she thought was an overturned boat and splashing in the water and a man running back to the superintendent's house. She called 911 and was told that that a call had been received about two dogs in the water.
But while his wife was seeking help, Mr. Nagy had used two two-by-fours to crawl out on the ice in a vain effort to rescue his dogs. He was initially able to hold the dogs up but then the ice cracked beneath him.
He struggled to find a secure piece of ice and crawl back out of the freezing water. The ice cracked kept cracking and he lost strength.
Speaking from his hospital room on Tuesday, Mr. Nagy told The Times that he kept calling to the dogs from the shore but their pitiful cries and pleading looks were too much to bear. "I couldn't not do anything," he said.
Alex and Jen Adams Hurd of Oak Bluffs were walking back from the ocean beach while the drama was unfolding. Mr. Hurd said he and his wife thought they heard a voice. His wife said it sounded like someone crying for help and suggested they investigate.
When they got closer to the pond side of the property they saw Mr. Nagy, his head was just above the water and crying for help. Mr. Hurd ran to the shore while his wife ran to the TTOR garage where she found a truck with the keys in the ignition and a CB radio.
Although unfamiliar with the radio, Ms. Hurd, an Alzheimer's therapist at Windemere nursing home, managed to turn it on, and contact emergency responders. Rescue personnel who thought they were responding to two dogs in the water learned that a man was in the water and drowning approximately 200 yards from the beach. A call went out alerting West Tisbury firefighters and Tri- Town ambulance personnel to race to the scene.
At the same time her husband, a landscaper, was doing his best to encourage Mr. Nagy not to give up. "He was definitely getting fatigued, he was definitely getting tired," said Mr. Hurd. "You could hear the fear in his voice and it truly sounded like he thought he was going to die."
Mr. Hurd left Mr. Nagy and ran up to the TTOR barn and took two surfboards belonging to the property superintendent, who lives on the premises but was on vacation, and put them in the truck. He and his wife drove down to the beach in the truck with the intention of trying to use the boards to rescue Mr. Nagy.
They stripped off clothing but the tail fins on the boards prevented the boards from sliding on the ice. Mr. Dinallo arrived to see if he could help. He provided a pocketknife with a screwdriver that was used to remove a fin from one surfboard.
"There were no introductions, just action," said Mr. Hurd.
Ms. Nagy and her friends returned to Long Point carrying a borrowed wet suit and rope, following a West Tisbury police vehicle that was on route. She was shocked by what she saw when she arrived.
"I see, not my husband crying in his soup about his dead dogs, but I see my husband screaming, help me, out in the water," she said. "It was kind of bleak and I just told him, don't waste your effort, we're coming, don't holler anymore."
When Ms. Nagy and her friends arrived with a wetsuit and warm blankets Mr. Hurd volunteered to put the wetsuit on and try to reach Mr. Nagy. His actions were courageous, said Ms. Nagy, describing the events of the day.
Looking back on Sunday's events, Mr. Hurd said he knows it was a foolhardy to try and go out without a safety rope of any kind but that when you see someone in trouble it is a natural response to act to help.
He was about 20 yards from shore when the first firefighters arrived and called him back to shore. He continued to shout encouragement as firefighters took over.
"Jen and I had been there with him so long we knew how long he had been in the water and it was getting to the point that we knew realistically he was not going to be able to hold on too much longer," said Mr. Hurd. "As people were showing up my wife and I were just trying to encourage him, to let him know that he was going to get out; that the police were coming; the firemen were coming; that EMS was coming."
And they were. Speaking to The Times on Monday, Mr. Hurd said, "The response was so great, so quick and so supportive, and everybody was just listening to what was said, and did whatever they could at that moment to help the situation. I felt proud to be a part of everything."
Jesse Oliver, a West Tisbury highway department employee and 11-year veteran of the town's volunteer fire department, was just sitting down to dinner when his pager sounded about 6:30 pm. A second page for the ambulance quickly followed, indicating the potential for a serious emergency.
Mr. Oliver went to the fire station to pick up his survival suit and a bag containing a 200-foot coil of rope. He was met by fellow firefighter Vincent Maciel, a landscape contractor. The men left together for Long Point in Mr. Maciel's truck.
When they arrived they saw an unidentified man with a surfboard and no rope preparing to go out on the ice. "We zoomed right down the beach and got him out of there so we didn't have two to rescue," said Mr. Oliver.
Under normal circumstances the men would have waited for the rest of the rescue team to arrive with a sled designed specifically for ice rescues. But Mr. Nagy had already gone underwater once or twice according to bystanders and went down even as the rescuers arrived. Mr. Oliver decided that there was no time to spare.
With Mr. Maciel holding one end of the rope, Mr. Oliver went out on the surfboard using the entire length of rope. The dogs were clambering onto Mr. Nagy in an effort to get out of the water and in the process pushing their owner under, said Mr. Oliver.
Mr. Oliver struggled to push the dogs out of the way even as he tried to keep Mr. Nagy's head above water and secure him to the surfboard. With some effort the firefighter managed to push one dog and then the other onto the ice.
By this time Mr. Nagy had been in the water approximately 45 minutes. Because of his weight and his waterlogged clothes Mr. Oliver could not pull him out of the water onto the board without risk of losing his grip. "My main objective was just to keep his head above water and talk to him," said Mr. Oliver. "I was talking to him about Hawaii and grass skirts just to try and get his head in a different place."
Mr. Oliver estimated he was in the water between 15 and 20 minutes when the main rescue team arrived. He estimated that Mr. Nagy was in the water for close to one hour.
Greg Pachico, 35, has been a member of the West Tisbury volunteer fire department since 1989. He had just finished eating Sunday dinner with his family, which included his father-in-law, fire chief Manuel Estrella, when both men received an emergency page.
Mr. Pachico, a trained diver, said that when he arrived Mr. Oliver was attempting to support the man and keep his head above the water. Mr. Pachico quickly donned a survival suit as additional firefighters prepared to deploy the ice rescue sled, which is equipped with a pulley system for hauling people out of the water.
Mr. Pachico made his way across the thin ice until he reached the victim and Mr. Oliver. The three men were then pulled back to shore.
Mr. Nagy was taken by ambulance to the Martha's Vineyard Hospital room emergency room. After assessing his condition doctors decided it would be best to transfer him to Boston.
Mr. Pachico said that he had assisted in the rescue of a dog that fell through the ice into the water but that this was the first time he helped to pull a person from the water. "All in all it went well," he said.
Mr. Oliver said the team has been training for about three years and downplayed his individual effort. "It doesn't happen with just one guy," said Mr. Oliver. "It is a team effort."
The fire department purchased the ice rescue sled several years ago. Every winter, when ice conditions are present, the firefighters train in the techniques of ice rescue. On Sunday that training was put to the test, said Mr. Estrella.
Chief Estrella said that without the quick response of Mr. Oliver what was a rescue could have easily turned into a recovery effort. Mr. Estrella said he was very thankful to all the fire personnel who arrived on the scene. "This shows that all the drills we do really do pay off," he said.
Mr. Oliver went to the hospital for an examination. When he finally arrived home late that night he was totally exhausted. And the dinner that had been left on the kitchen counter for him was gone. His one-year-old Lab pup ate it. "I couldn't get mad at my dog," said Mr. Oliver. "He's a little puppy and still learning."