The Jan. 5 cover story of the New York Times Magazine was an excellent account of the rescue of a Montauk, N.Y., fisherman who fell overboard in the middle of the night last July. “A Speck in the Sea,” written by Paul Tough, details the actions taken by John Aldridge, the man overboard, and those looking for him, including Anthony Sosinski, his fishing partner on the lobster boat, the Coast Guard and about 20 volunteer boats.
Aldridge fell overboard while working the back deck of the Anna Mary, a 45-footer, as his partner and another fisherman slept. He was supposed to wake Sosinski before midnight, but he had decided to let him sleep as he prepared to haul pots the next morning.
After he went into the water, Aldridge remained focused on doing the right things to stay alive. He used his upside-down rubber boots as twin flotation devices tucked under his arms. He figured a way to find and hang on to a buoy marking a string of traps. “He’d kept himself alive in a way that few people could, had managed to think and work his way through a situation that, for most of us, would have been immediately and completely overwhelming. And he’d willed himself to live,” wrote Tough.
The problem is that he didn’t do the right things to stay alive before going into the water. He wasn’t wearing a PFD or a personal locator beacon. These omissions prompted some forceful feedback from readers.
Mario Vittone, a retired Coast Guard rescue swimmer and director of VLinc Maritime, posted comments on gcaptain.com, which were also published in the letters section of the Times' magazine last Sunday. Vittone wrote: “I’m beginning to think there is a disease that is caught early in a working fisherman’s life; it’s as if there is something in the scales of fish that wants to pay them back, something that gets under their skin. Once in their blood, it affects the brain and makes them more likely to die than any other group of professional mariners. ... They end up taking risks that other professional mariners successfully avoid every day.”
After almost 12 hours in the water, Aldridge was found by a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter crew nearing bingo fuel status (just enough to get home). Aside from being dehydrated and hypothermic, he suffered no lasting ill effects, physical or psychological. He’s back fishing for a living.
Let’s hope he’s wearing a PFD these days.