Amid howling winds and dropping temperatures Monday morning, Aquinnah Police Officer David Murphy removed his duty belt and swam to the assistance of a man shouting for help off Red Beach in Menemsha Pond after his dingy capsized. Officer Murphy helped the man remain afloat until Aquinnah harbormaster Brian Vanderhoop and firefighter Darren Laporte arrived in the Wampanoag tribe’s inflatable patrol boat and pulled them from the water.
Winds were gusting more than 30 miles per hour Monday when Officer Murphy received a call just before 9 am of a man in distress off Red Beach, on the northwest corner of Menemsha Pond off Lobsterville Road. Seasonal Aquinnah homeowner Eric Stange, 63, of Arlington later told rescuers he had gone out to check a sailboat when the wind upended his dinghy.
Officer Murphy said that when he arrived, Mr. Stange was about 150 yards from shore, and holding on to the mooring line of a boat. The officer alerted the Communications Center that he was about to enter the water and requested assistance. Dispatch notified the Coast Guard, Aquinnah harbormaster, and West Tisbury fire and rescue, as well as Tri-Town Ambulance.
Officer Murphy began swimming. “I eventually made it to him, identified myself, and asked him if he was OK,” Mr. Murphy said in his report. “He stated that he was cold and tired. I advised him that help was on the way. Mr. Stange had wrapped his leg around the mooring line, which was also keeping him stable. He stated that he was glad that I swam out to him. I stated that I was glad that he was OK. I continued to talk with him in an effort to keep him calm and ensure that he was strong enough to continue to hold on to the line. It appeared that the high winds combined with the water temperature were starting to have an effect on his strength.”
Help arrived soon after. Mr. Stange refused medical care, and Officer Murphy returned to the Aquinnah police station and changed into a dry uniform.
Officer Murphy told The Times he did not do anything special, and he was happy it all ended well.
Aquinnah Police Chief Randhi Belain told The Times the incident is the latest reminder of why it is important to always wear a PFD on the water.
In a Letter to the Editor, Mr. Stange thanked all those who came to his assistance and echoed Chief Belain.
“As Chief Belain pointed out, I made a foolish miscalculation that a short trip from the beach to my mooring at low tide wouldn’t require a PFD – breaking a rule I impose on my children all the time,” he said. “I should have known better after many years of boating; cool water and high winds can easily become treacherous no matter how close to shore – use a PFD.”