Trio helps rescue floundering kids from Penfield Reef
Updated 9:43 pm, Tuesday, July 26, 2011
A child swept into Long Island Sound after tumbling off Penfield Reef on Sunday was saved by the combined rescue efforts of a beach resident who swam from shore and a kayaker paddling on the rising tide before emergency personnel arrived on scene.
The boy, believed to be about 6 or 7 years old, according to one of his rescuers, was with at least three other children on the reef shortly after 4:15 p.m. Sunday as the tide started rushing in. The children's parents were on the beach, according to police.
The first person to notice the children in distress was Fairfield Beach Road resident Paige Herman. She rushed from her porch and caught the attention of 34-year-old Eric Barthel, who has a summer home two houses down the street from her. Barthel ran length of a football field across the beach and plunged into the water to swim out to the struggling children.
Before the kayaker appeared, Barthel reached a girl, about 12 years old, and encouraged her to swim back to the reef. He then made his way over to a younger swimmer who grabbed onto him. He persuaded her to swim out to parents standing in chest-deep water so he could focus his attention on the floundering 7-year-old and the 13-year-old who had been treading water while holding onto him.
"She played a big role in this," Barthelsaid. "She was a good swimmer. She held the kid up until I could get out there."
When Barthel got close, the boy grabbed onto his neck, impeding his breathing momentarily. By this time, Barthel said he began to tire.
The kayaker, Fairfield resident Bryan Cafferelli, who lives across the street from Herman, arrived on the frantic scene, and Barthel was able to hoist the boy into the kayak's second seat. Exhausted, Barthel steadied himself using the kayak as they made their way back to the beach.
"It was truly a team effort, because the guy in the kayak helped me," said Barthel, married and the father of a 1-year-old daughter.
Barthel, who has been swimming in the Lantern Point area since childhood, said if he hadn't been alerted so quickly by Herman's calls for help, precious seconds would have been lost bringing the children safely back to shore. He added that when he reached the children, the water was "over my head" and the children were screaming that they were going to go under and couldn't swim anymore.
Barthel rents the family beach house, built by his great-grandfather, for two weeks every summer. The incident, he said, makes him wonder if he was destined to be at the right place at the right time. His mother told him it was meant to be.
Though everyone made it to shore safely, several "9-1-1" calls were placed to emergency services about the incident, and personnel from Fairfield and Bridgeport began swinging into action.
The 7-year-old did not suffer any injuries, police said.
"The Sound remains unpredictable," Police Chief Gary MacNamara said Monday, "and anybody who ventures out into the Sound should have a full understanding of the hazards."
The rescue, the chief said, "is a great example of coordinated emergency response and the heroic efforts of citizens."
Sgt. Suzanne Lussier, a Fairfield police spokeswoman, added, "There are no boundaries, no definitive lines, on the water."
MacNamara said the incident "had the potential to be extremely tragic."
Two weeks ago, a 77-year-old Bridgeport woman was stricken while swimming off Jennings Beach, and despite being rescued by several Good Samaritans, died after six days of intensive-care treatment at Bridgeport Hospital.