The U.S. Coast Guard awarded Aquinnah Police Officer David Murphy a Meritorious Public Service Award for his courageous rescue of a mariner in distress in October 2016.
Responding to the emergency call, Murphy located seasonal Aquinnah resident Eric Stange 150 feet offshore from Red Beach, where he was clinging to a mooring buoy. High winds and cold water were sapping Stange’s ability to stay afloat.
“Without hesitation Officer Murphy removed his duty belt and communications gear” before swimming out to Stange, Lt. Commander Stephen Hart told those gathered at the ceremony.
As The Times reported in 2016, Stange had been out on the water to check on a sailboat when his inflatable dinghy capsized.
Stange, an Arlington resident, attended the ceremony. “In that kind of situation when you see somebody who just looked like he didn’t even think twice — charging out to where I’d been hanging from a buoy for a while; obviously I knew things are going to be OK,” he said.
Stange joked that he and Murphy had “a little bit of chitchat” out on the buoy.
Murphy remained with Stange for about 15 minutes before Aquinnah firefighter Darren LaPorte and harbormaster Brian Vanderhoop arrived in a Wampanoag Tribe inflatable boat.
Aquinnah Police Chief Rhandi Belain told The Times on Friday that LaPorte and Vanderhoop’s swift deployment of a shallow-draft boat also deserved recognition. At the time of the rescue, Station Menemsha didn’t have a boat that could navigate the shallows of Menemsha Pond, according to Belain.
“Due to Officer Murphy’s heroism, self-sacrifice, and decisive actions, a life was saved,” Hart said.
Stange subsequently declined medical treatment. Murphy changed into a dry uniform at the Aquinnah Police Station and resumed duty.
At the ceremony, Murphy was presented with a certificate by Capt. Richard Schultz, commander of Sector Southeastern New England. The certificate bore the signature of Rear Admiral Steven Poulin, First District commander in Boston. Schultz also decorated Murphy with a medal.
“The Coast Guard is so fortunate to have so many partner agencies — police departments, fire departments, harbormasters, Massachusetts Environmental Police, and the like — that we do rely on to be that local lifesaving arm,” Schultz said. “This is actually two weeks in a row where I’ve gotten to award members of the public or agencies with a Meritorious Public Service Award,” he said, noting awards he presented last Wednesday in Providence, R.I. “It just goes to show you that there are folks who deeply care about others,” he said.
“I’d just like to thank all my brothers and sisters who would have done the same exact thing I did,” Murphy said. “So I didn’t do anything special. I’m just glad it all worked out.”
In a letter sent to The Times shortly after his rescue, Stange said it was “a foolish miscalculation” not to have brought a PFD (personal flotation device) aboard the dinghy.