Quick thinking, a pair of sharp eyes, a lot of team work, and a boatload of good luck saved the life of a Montauk fisherman whose boat sank off Montauk Point just before sunset Saturday. It was Clinton A. Seyler’s second recent brush with catastrophe: He had been in a serious car accident just 10 days earlier, although no one was hurt.
Mr. Seyler, a 49-year-old lobsterman, had taken his 37-foot boat from the Landing Marina in Montauk Harbor and was just off the Point when it began to take on water, according to Coast Guard First Chief Jason D. Walter, who said on Monday that the boat went under quickly.
According to Toni Gray, who describes herself as Mr. Seyler’s “significant other,” Mr. Seyler managed to grab a flotation device as the boat went down. The water was cold, about 47 degrees, with the air about 10 degrees colder.
Without a life ring, Mr. Seyler would have gone under, as his winter clothing absorbed the cold water, First Chief Walter said. It was then that the first piece of good luck occurred.
Larry and Carol Blieka are nature enthusiasts who were at the Point to photograph the decorated Montauk Lighthouse. “We were a little early for the lights to be lit, so we went over to the snack bar. My husband is an avid fisherman,” Mrs. Blieka said yesterday. She said his eyes are razor-sharp when it comes to looking out over the water, explaining that he was gazing across the water when he spotted what looked possibly like a person.
“ ‘Carol, you have to come over with your camera,’ ” Mrs. Blieka said her husband told her. She aimed her Nikon D3100 with its 55-by-300 lens at the small object, which Mr. Blieka, a retired New York City fire chief, estimated was about a half mile off shore. “I took a picture, magnified it, and it was a person,” Mrs. Blieka said. Mr. Blieka tried to call for help with his cellphone, but it wasn’t getting a signal. Instead, they used the phone at the snack bar.
Lt. Tom Grenci was one of several East Hampton Town police to respond. “I was the first one on the scene,” the lieutenant, who lives in Montauk and knows the roads around the lighthouse well, said on Tuesday. He was on patrol on Montauk Highway near West Lake Drive when the call came in, and his knowledge proved critical. The gate on the dirt road down to Turtle Cove was closed, but the lieutenant knew his way around it. “I pulled into Turtle Cove. I had my binoculars. I could see somebody floating. He was trying to lift his head. I radioed in to dispatch.” The sun was sinking.
Mr. and Mrs. Blieka continued to watch the floating Mr. Seyler, but the current was quickly carrying him out to sea. She said they lost sight of him as he was carried around the Point.
This is actually the third time that the sharp-eyed Mr. Blieka has spotted a victim in distress on the water. Several years ago, Mrs. Blieka said, he spotted someone’s boat capsize off Cupsogue Beach; Mr. Blieka took his kayak out and saved him. Then, last year, he was with a friend on the beach in Moriches when he again saw someone in the water and helped save him.
Mr. Seyler’s run of luck continued. This time, the Coast Guard’s 47-foot motor lifeboat (47301) was just outside the Star Island station in Montauk Harbor on a training mission when the distress call came in. “Any time we leave the dock, we are always ready for S.A.R. (search and rescue),” Petty Officer First Class Dennis Heard said on Tuesday. “He is really lucky we were in the water,” he said.
The lifeboat, one of two 47-foot lifeboats at Star Island, dates to the 1990s and is powered by Detroit twin diesel engines, each capable of 430 horsepower. The craft is able to reach a speed of 20 knots, the equivalent of about 23 miles per hour.
The crew needed that power to reach Mr. Seyler in time: The trip took about 15 to 20 minutes. Mr. Seyler was brought on board as the sun was setting. “It was a couple of hundred yards east of the Point. The victim was suffering from hypothermia,” the first chief said.
Now a new race began: to save Mr. Seyler from rapidly sinking body temperature. The Coast Guard crew was met back at its base by Montauk Fire Department’s emergency medical technicians. Ms. Gray had been alerted and was also at the scene.
“I was in the ambulance as they were trying to find a pulse,” she said Tuesday. “The E.M.T. guys were unbelievable. At the end of the day, these guys saved a life. People take them for granted. They were amazing.”
Still in life-threatening condition, Mr. Seyler was taken to the overlook on the Montauk Highway at Hither Hills State Park, from which he was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital, Lieutenant Grenci reported. There, Mr. Seyler was resuscitated, so much so that he was able to check out of the hospital before the Coast Guard could finish interviewing him. The mission was accomplished. First Chief Walter said they would be in touch with him soon to tie up some loose ends.
On Tuesday, according to Ms. Gray, Mr. Seyler returned to the hospital as an outpatient. “You have to be very careful with hypothermia,” she said.
According to an East Hampton Town police accident report released Monday, Mr. Seyler had been driving Ms. Gray’s 2009 Jeep eastbound on Pantigo Road in East Hampton the day before Thanksgiving, with Ms. Gray in the passenger seat, when he lost control of the vehicle. The Jeep left the road, crashing “into a tree and through a fence,” the report says. Neither driver nor passenger were hurt.
“If he hadn’t been seen by that birdwatcher, nobody would have seen him as he shot past the Point,” First Chief Walter said. “I’m just glad this fellow’s family is celebrating this holiday, instead of suffering,” Mrs. Blieka said yesterday from their Rocky Point home.