Main Beach Rescue in Nick of Time

Lifeguards not yet on duty in preseason incident that nearly claimed a life
Bystanders gathered as Juan Carlos Salvana, 30, of Long Island City was loaded into an ambulance after coming close to drowning at Main Beach in East Hampton Village last Thursday. Morgan McGiven

    A Long Island City man who was pulled from the ocean at Main Beach last Thursday afternoon not breathing and foaming at the mouth, has returned home in good health after leaving Southampton Hospital on Sunday.

    Juan Carlos Salvana, 30, is “apparently no worse for the wear,” East Hampton Village Police Chief Gerard Larsen said yesterday.

    A visitor to East Hampton from Grand Rapids, Mich., Bill Roberson, 30, swam out and hauled the man out of the still-cold ocean. “We were packing up to leave,” Mr. Roberson said yesterday of the moments before the rescue. He had spent the day at the beach with his wife and her family.

    “We were walking toward the car when I saw the man screaming and flailing,” Mr. Roberson said.  It was clear to him the man was going under.

    He ran to the water and swam out to Mr. Salvana.  “He was maybe 30, 40 yards out. Once I got to him, I don’t remember exactly what happened.” Mr. Roberson turned the limp man over, and began swimming back to shore. “I probably swam about 10 yards until I was able to touch ground,” he said. “He was a shorter gentleman. He had just gotten in over his head.”

    “When I’d gotten to him in the water he was face down. It was a pretty gruesome sight,” said Mr. Roberson. Mr. Salvana was not breathing, he said. “His lips were blue, and he was foaming at the mouth.”

    Mr. Roberson and his wife have since returned to Grand Rapids. The rescuer said he learned to swim “by playing in the lakes” of Michigan. “I’ve been playing in the water my whole life.”

    According to Chief Larsen, two village police officers, Jack Bartelme and Eban Ball, happened to be at the beach at the time. “The two cops dragged him out of the water and up the beach,” the chief said. “Then a doctor arrived.”

    Dr. Louis Cohen helped the officers apply cardiopulmonary resuscitation until an East Hampton Village Ambulance Association team arrived to take the man to Southampton Hospital.

    Angie Masters of Arkansas, who was visiting East Hampton for the day, said she had heard screaming and seen two boys with a red body board attempting to rescue the drowning man. She thought there might have been a second person in distress, who apparently made it out of the water unaided. “We were just praying,” she said.

    Lifeguards were not on duty at Main Beach at the time of the incident. According to the East Hampton Village Web site, Main Beach and the other village ocean beaches have lifeguards on duty on weekends and holidays only until the last Saturday in June. Lifeguards will be stationed at village beaches seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., starting this weekend, for the remainder of the season. Swimming is nominally prohibited when lifeguards are not present.

    Chief Larsen spoke to Mr. Salvana’s uncle yesterday. “He’s doing well,” the chief reported.

    Mr. Roberson, who has returned to work as a product engineer with the Roskam Baking Company in Grand Rapids, said he missed East Hampton. “It was real nice,” he said. “We visit my wife’s sister once or twice a year.” His sister-in-law, who has an apartment in Manhattan, is renting a house here for the season.

    “We had such a great time in East Hampton, we’re going to try to make it out there once a year,” said Mr. Roberson.