Fisherman: ‘Wind gust pushed me off the pier’

Coast Guard rescued him after several hours in choppy surf.

Peter Jackson, center, was rescued early Thursday morning after falling into the water while fishing. He's shown here with winners from team Payback, from left, Jim Cornwell, Jackson and boat captain Donnie Benefit. — Nelson Sigelman file photo

A 73-year-old striper fisherman was pulled from the choppy waters of Menemsha early Thursday morning, after another fisherman on the Aquinnah side of the Menemsha channel heard his screams for help, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer Joe Queen.

The fisherman, Peter Jackson of Edgartown, endured several hours in the water after falling from the West Dock as he fished Wednesday night. He was found clinging to a rope beneath the dock, Petty Officer Queen told The Times.

“Wind pushed me right off the end of the pier,” Mr. Jackson said during a telephone conversation. “One gust — 70 mph — caught me in the back. I had a fish on,” he said. His rod went in with him, he said, with a striper still hooked. Once in, he hugged pilings and rope to stay afloat, he said. His phone was in his pocket and immediately got drenched, so the option of calling for help vanished, he said.

After hollering for help for a while, he saw some pickups across the channel on the Aquinnah side, but with windows up and the wind roaring, the occupants couldn’t hear him. He considered swimming across to the beach on the Aquinnah side, but in oil pants, an oil jacket, and boots he “never would have made it across that rip,” he said. He kept hollering for help, and eventually an angler across the channel heard him and called the Coast Guard.

Petty Officer Queen and fellow Coast Guardsmen were dispatched from Coast Guard Station Menemsha shortly after 3 am. They did not need to use a boat. They simply walked down the drive-on dock from the Coast Guard boathouse. After locating Mr. Jackson, they were able to pull him to safety using a life ring, a lifeline, and a 12-foot ladder.

Chilmark Police Sgt. Sean Slavin told The Times that when he came on the scene, Mr. Jackson was in his truck trying to warm himself. A Tri-Town Ambulance arrived shortly after the sergeant. He assisted the ambulance crew in escorting Mr. Jackson from his truck to the ambulance in wind that he described as easily capable of knocking you off the dock if you didn’t brace yourself.

Mr. Jackson was taken to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, where they examined him for hypothermia before he was released, he said.

“I feel good, except my throat is a little sore,” he said.

He told The Times he wanted to express his thanks to the Aquinnah fisherman who called for help and to the Coast Guard for saving him. He said he plans to reach out and thank them personally as soon as he can.

“He’s on the water all his life — he’s tough,” longtime friend Donnie Benefit said in a telephone conversation. Mr. Benefit described Mr. Jackson as a strong guy. He can bend a nail with two fingers, he said. “You don’t want him to change your tire — he’ll snap the lugs,” he added. Mr. Benefit said you always need to have respect for the sea. But “I’m glad it went well” in the end. When he next sees Mr. Jackson, he plans to give him a ribbing about the accident, and remind him to fish safely. “I hope he holds up in the Derby. I’d like to see him win the seniors.”