Harken Derm

Recognition for rescue on Buzzards Bay

Published on May 15th, 2019

The Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal is awarded to any person who rescues or endeavors to rescue any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils at sea within the territorial waters of the United States, or as part of a sailboat race or voyage that originated or stopped in the U.S.

The US Sailing Safety at Sea Committee will award the medal to six crew for their rescue of nine people separated from their capsized powerboat in Buzzards Bay (Mass.). These rescuers will be honored by US Sailing Safety at Sea Seminar Moderator Richard du Moulin during the 2019 Safety at Sea Seminar on May 18 at SUNY Maritime in the Bronx, N.Y.

On July 26, 2017, Disco Volante, a Hanse 400 from the Sound Sailing Center, was teaching an Advanced Coastal Cruising Class with four students and two instructors from Norwalk, Conn. on their way to Portland, Maine. The wind speed was 20 knots with 4’ to 5’ waves, air temperature was 78 degrees, and water temperature was 68 degrees.

At 4:40pm, approaching the Cape Cod Canal in Buzzards Bay, Co-Captain/Instructor Wim Jessup spotted an overturned 23’ Four Winns powerboat with many people in the water. He initiated a VHF Channel 16 radio call: “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday there appears to be 11 people in the water. One child is missing submerged under the vessel.”

There were 12 people from the powerboat: nine in the water and separated from the boat, plus a mother and father clinging to the powerboat shouting that their son, age 8, was trapped underneath.

Disco Volante had just completed drills on rescuing people in the water earlier in the day. After dropping sails and turning on their motor, Co-Captain/Instructor Martin van Breems and the four adult students – Fred Moy, Mike McCormack, Brad Freeman, and Peter Kelly – deployed their Lifesling encircling nine people – one adult and eight children ages 8 to 13 years wearing life jackets – that grabbed onto the line, and then shut down their engine.

The crew of Disco Volante grabbed one victim at a time by their wrists pulling them up onto their deck amidships. Some were shivering, crying, and one with asthma was hyperventilating. The victims were dried and then wrapped in blankets by the crew. Disco Volante brought the victims to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and later continued their class after completing reports with the authorities.

Meanwhile, other responses came from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) 45’ boat, USCG MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, Massachusetts Environmental Police, local police, a commercial diver, and recreational boaters. These responders started arriving in four minutes, while Disco Volante was making their rescues.

Lieutenant Matthew Bass of the Massachusetts Environmental Police removed his black duty belt, donned swim goggles and dove into the water. Finding the low end of the boat deep in the water and the waves churning, it was too rough to get underneath. Next he tied a line to the boat, passing it to Adam Murphy, Marion’s harbormaster, and they tried to pull the boat upright by towing it. But the mass of water in the boat was too much to overcome.

Commercial Diver Michael Margulis was called to move in, donned his diving gear, dove in finding it dark inside the Four Winns and bumped into a pool noodle, empty life jacket, a shoe, and then found their 8-year-old son in his lifejacket pinned against the floor in the bow section. He put the child under one arm and swam to Bass’s boat. The underwater search took four minutes. This was Margulis first rescue.

Meanwhile Bass and Murphy had pulled the mother and father aboard, when Margulis passed their son to them and they initiated CPR immediately. They raced to shore to Onset, Mass. and the child was transferred to an ambulance taking him to nearby Tobey Hospital, and from there they Med-flighted him to Boston Hospital. The best estimate was that the child was underwater for 24 minutes. Sadly, the boy did not survive.

US Sailing is awarding the Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal to Wim Jessup, Martin van Breems, Fred Moy, Mike McCormack, Brad Freeman, and Peter Kelly for maintaining a lookout, coming to the aid of a capsized vessel, and saving the lives of nine people.

The Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal was established in 1990 by friends of the late Mr. Hanson, an ocean-racing sailor from the Chesapeake Bay, with the purpose of recognizing significant accomplishments in seamanship and collecting case studies of rescues for analysis by the Safety at Sea Committee of US Sailing for use in educational and training programs. Any individual or organization may submit a nomination for a Hanson Rescue Medal.

Photo from New England Cable News report

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