Geologic Earth Exploration Drilling Crew Rescue Fisherman from Sakonnet River

SAKONNET, RI – A fisherman owes his life to an alert Sakonnet River drilling crew and extraordinary good fortune. Cold and hopelessly tangle in fishing line and his coat, the man (whose identity has not been released), was plucked from the river at 2 a.m. on Oct. 10, one of the worst nights of this stormy fall.

A three-man second shift crew was working late that night on the jack-up barge KatherineG beneath the Sakonnet River Bridge in fierce north winds and driving rain. Although they usually shut down their bottom sampling work for the new Sakonnet River Bridge at 1 a.m., they had bored down to a depth of 298 feet and needed to keep going.

At 2 a.m. they shut the rig engine down for a moment to refuel. Above the wind’s roar, foreman Raymond Eastwood heard a faint scream for help. He moved up to the bow and saw a man standing on the nearby railroad swing bridge waiving his arms and shouting.

Not knowing what had happened, Mr. Eastwood round up his two co-workers, Michael Mellen and Charlie O’Connell. They climbed into the workboat tied alongside the barge and set out north toward the bridge.

While it was relatively calm on the bridge’s south side, company president Debbie Arey said conditions changed dramatically for the worse as the small boat went through the channel to the unprotected north side with its long fetch to Fall River.

“Within seconds the crew was being blasted by seas as they entered the channel and again cut back the engines,” she said. “They listened and heard a very faint cry for help in the distance.”

Visibility was almost zero but one of the crew members glimpsed the brief reflection of light off a man’s bald head a good 500 feet away. They carefully moved the boat closer and tossed the man a life ring but he was unable to grasp it. Moving even closer they snagged his shirt collar with a boat hook and muscled him aboard.

Once he was in the boat, his rescuers could see that he was tangled in fishing line and that his jacket had pulled partly over his head restricting his hands.

Ms. Arey said it appeared he had tried to remove his coat but had gotten stuck. Ironically, that might have helped save him since the air bible in the back of his coat seemed to be keeping him afloat.

The rescuers took the victim back to the barge and covered him with blankets. They then drove him to a fish pier on the Tiverton side where they were met by Tiverton police and rescue. The man is said to be doing well.

Ms. Arey credits “Quick, brave human response and a sturdy boat hook” for the man’s rescue.

BY BRUCE BURDETT - East Bay Newspapers

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