‘Miracle’ Rescue of a 2-Year-Old

After frantic minutes elapse, a tiny hand rises from the water in Montauk
John DeLuca
After John DeLuca pulled a seemingly lifeless 2-year-old from a marina’s waters, he called the boy’s survival a “Montauk miracle — that’s what it was.” Taylor K. Vecsey

A 2-year-old nearly drowned on June 1 when he fell into the water at a Montauk marina and couldn’t be found for several minutes.

The boy was revived after his hand was spotted sticking up from under a sailboat at the Montauk Lake Club. East Hampton Town Police Capt. Chris Anderson said that there was limited information about what happened, but that the boy, Nathan Sarmiento of East Hampton, had fallen off the Saoirse. Police received a frantic 911 call at 11:13 a.m. after a bystander had pulled the unconscious boy out of the water.

He vomited a large amount of water and began breathing on his own before police arrived, Captain Anderson said. He regained consciousness and was crying before being airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital. Though hospital officials did not release information on his condition because he was a minor, several people involved said the boy was released from the hospital and is back home.

“To me, it was a miracle,” said John DeLuca, 79, who plucked the boy’s limp body from the water.

Mr. DeLuca, a grandfather known as Johnny Marlin to many in Montauk for the restaurant he ran for 22 years, had been on his boat for about 10 minutes when he heard a scream break the silence at the quiet marina, which was mostly empty that Wednesday morning. At first he ignored it, thinking there was an argument, but then a second scream made it clear something was desperately wrong. He jumped off the boat and ran about 100 yards to the end of the dock, where it meets another floating dock.

A woman was thrashing about. “I kept saying to her, ‘What’s the problem?’ ” he said. “She was so hysterical that she was out of it completely.” She also spoke only Spanish, which Mr. DeLuca doesn’t speak. Still, he understood that someone or something was in the water — he thought it might have been a dog. The water was dark and the visibility poor in the line of boats at the full dock. He thought about jumping in, but he wasn’t sure where to start a search, he said, so he stayed on the dock.

After what Mr. DeLuca estimated was 7 to 10 minutes after he had first heard a scream, suddenly the mother saw the little boy’s hand pop up near the transom. He kneeled down on the dock, reached into the cold water, and lifted the boy up by his arm.

“He was a rag doll. That’s the only way I can explain it,” he said, holding back tears.

The 2-year-old wasn’t breathing. Mr. DeLuca turned the boy face down and “pumped his stomach,” he said, in an effort to get the water out of his lungs. He tried to recall the cardiopulmonary resuscitation he learned many years ago when he worked as a lifeguard at Long Beach. Water flowed from the boy’s mouth, and there was foam around his lips. He kept pumping.

“I kept talking to him all the time. ‘Come on, pal. Come on, pal.’ ” Then he heard a noise. “Two minutes later, the kid opened his eyes,” Mr. DeLuca said.

“It wasn’t me. God brought him back,” he said. “I just can’t believe that a kid that would be underwater for all that time could come back. He’s a miracle kid.”

Each year, more than 500,000 people  worldwide die by drowning. According to the American Heart Association, brain damage is possible after four to six minutes without oxygen. After more than 10 minutes without oxygen, brain death is likely. While survival is not common in victims who have been underwater for a prolonged period, people have made a full neurological recovery when submerged in icy water, and in some cases warm water.

In the midst of Mr. DeLuca’s attempts to revive the boy, another man appeared on the dock and asked if anyone had called 911. No one had. Mr. DeLuca threw his cellphone on the dock, and the other man made the call.

Montauk Fire Chief Joe Lenahan was around the corner working when his department was dispatched to the Lake Club about a child who had fallen into the water. He said he got to the marina within 45 seconds of the call. He ran to the pool, found no one, then ran out back to the lawn overlooking the water and saw no one there either.

“I stopped and listened, and I heard a scream in the distance,” he said. He ran down the dock and found the rescue effort under way.

The boy was lying on his back at that point but was still blue, and his breathing was labored, the chief said. He took the child in his arms, turned him onto his stomach, and ran as fast as he could down the dock to meet the police and ambulance crew as they arrived. The boy threw up more water as he was carried.

Once he had reached a town police officer, Chief Lenahan took the child’s soaked clothes off — a brown shirt with a teddy bear on it and blue pants — and then the emergency medical technicians took over.

Chief Lenahan said he wasn’t able to gather from the boy’s mother, Irma Suarez, what exactly had happened.

Mr. DeLuca said he has since learned that Ms. Suarez was hired to clean the boat. It still isn’t clear to him whether the boy fell off the boat or the dock.

Either way, Mr. DeLuca said, he has spoken to the owner of the Lake Club about posting signs encouraging parents to put life preservers on children who are on the dock. State regulations only require that children under 12 wear life jackets aboard boats. Mr. DeLuca said the club has agreed to post signs and is also putting out rescue devices on the docks.

Mr. DeLuca said he hoped the story would help prevent a tragedy during the boating season this summer. He is struggling to rid his mind of what happened and trying to focus on the fact that the boy is home and riding his bike, based on a photo he received through the owners of the boat. He hopes to meet the boy and give him a hug.

Mr. DeLuca’s boat was put in the water only that very day, and he said he almost didn’t stop by when he did. “God works in mysterious ways,” he said. “A miracle in Montauk — that’s what it was.”