2009-06-03 / Opinion
Tragedy mars start of boating season
Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season and is something I look forward to all winter. To my family the warm weather and sunshine means one thing — boating.
As Memorial Day weekend activities for 2009 were just getting under way on May 22, we decided to take a sunset cruise to one of our favorite dock-and-dine spots on the Manasquan River. Our two elder sons and their friends joined us.
As we passed through the NJ Transit railroad bridge, we observed several boats, including the Manasquan Water Taxi, rushing toward a spot just outside a local dog-friendly beach in Manasquan.
My son, our captain, said something was wrong. A small boat with two passengers appeared to be going around in circles with no one operating it.
Just then my husband yelled, "Did you see that guy? He just flew off his boat and landed on the stern of the little boat! That was amazing!"
We watched as the little boat slowed and began to drift toward the beach, but the stern was awfully low, as if it might be taking on water.
Just then a Tow Boat U.S. captain came up next to the troubled vessel and brought it safely to shore on the dog beach.
The tow boat captain then radioed for help and we heard the transmission on our radio. He said there had been a boat accident
and he had two injured girls, one of whom was pinned beneath the center console, and he needed help. The U.S. Coast Guard responded to the radio transmission and asked if everyone on the boat was accounted for. The tow boat captain said, "There were five people in the boat. Four are accounted for and one is still in the water." A sick feeling shot through mybody and everyone got really quiet. We looked around but saw no one in the water flailing about.
The captain repeated, "One person is in the water and unaccounted for."
We all started looking down into the water with a feeling of dread.
The Coast Guard and New Jersey State Police boats arrived seconds later.
The tow boat captain said someone was having difficulty breathing and needed an inhaler.
I had an inhaler in my bag.
So we radioed back that we had an inhaler and would try to approach them.
We couldn't get to the beach because it was too shallow, so we started heading toward the police and Coast Guard boats. As we approached, another boater yelled that someone was under the water just below a small fishing boat, which was not far from us.
The young men in the fishing boat were looking down into the water below, never taking their eyes off the submerged person, as directed by the officers.
I yelled to the people on the water taxi pontoon boat, asking if they could make it to the beach with my inhaler, which they did as I watched. (I later found out they had already gotten another inhaler).
By the time I turned around, the other people aboard my boat told me one of the police officers had jumped into the water and he and a Coast Guard officer had lifted an unconscious man out of the water and immediately began efforts to resuscitate him.
I saw the Coast Guard boat speeding away.
There was nothing more we could do. Feeling kind of sick, we continued on to our destination. We were all pretty quiet as we watched the growing number of flashing lights at the shore and a helicopter tend to other accident victims.
We would later learn from the police that the young man who was lifted from the murky depths of the river was Kyle Tanis of Mahwah. Tanis did not survive and an autopsy concluded that he had drowned.
Two girls who were on the small boat, which was a 15-foot Key West, were taken to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune, in critical condition. They are currently recuperating.
The other two people who were thrown from the Key West and rescued by other boaters were treated and released.
The other boat reportedly involved in the accident was a 30-foot Boston Whaler whose occupants were not injured.
The man who selflessly jumped onto the crippled Key West as it veered out of control is lifelong boater John Godwin, 34 of Point Pleasant, owner of Point Lobster in Point Pleasant. Godwin later told me he had been fishing on his boat with his girlfriend near the railroad bridge when he heard the impact of two boats and knew in his gut that the little boat that had just passed through the bridge opening with five young people in it was in trouble. That is when he pulled up as close to the moving Key West as he could and jumped into action.
Since the accident is still under investigation, the police will not speculate as to what happened and neither will I.
What I do know is that a young man lost his life in a tragic boat accident and his family and friends are grieving. My heart goes out to them. I wish we could have helped save him.
I also wish a full and speedy recovery to those who were injured and encourage them to try to get on with their lives and, in time, put this traumatic episode behind them.
I am reminded that we should all live life to its fullest because we never know what the future holds, but while doing so on the water, we need to always be aware of boats around us, use caution at all times and obey all the rules, which were developed to keep us safe.
Since this is the second fatal boat crash that New Jersey State Police Marine Services Bureau officers from Point Pleasant must investigate within a year, perhaps new rules and reforms will come, such as mandatory life jackets for all occupants of boats under a certain size or mandatory hands-on boat handling lessons, but for now we should remember to be cautious and vigilant and have a working knowledge of the all current rules of the water and the vessels we operate.
This Memorial Day weekend was certainly one we will never forget. Each time we pass the spot just off the dog beach, our minds will no doubt focus on that fateful day and the young life senselessly lost, in addition to those who risked their lives to save others. You can almost always count on boaters to come to the aid of other boaters in need.
I hope, too, that this story serves as a reminder to always proceed with caution.
In the meantime, my sincerest wish is for everyone to have a happy and safe summer season, on land or sea. Tight lines … Amy.
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