Skip to comments.RESCUE-The Dramatic Story of the Rescue of Freeper thepainster
Posted on 12/07/2011 4:37:02 PM PST by thepainster
It happened in an instant. I dropped my canoe paddle in the lake and as it started to float away, I instinctively reached over the side of the canoe to grab it. Bad move. In the blink of an eye I was dumped into the middle of Nuttings Lake in December with no life jacket. As I struggled to right my canoe and retrieve fishing rods and tackle boxes, the numbing cold water brought me to a stark reality. The clock was ticking. I had little time. I had to make decisions fast.
My first thought was to un-swamp the canoe mid lake. A difficult and tricky maneuver during ideal conditions. With several layers of clothes clinging to my body and extremely cold water making it even more difficult, I quickly abandoned this plan. I then decided to swim for shore. After an assessment of my position, I determined the closest point was a friends dock on the south shore. I estimated the distance to be between two hundred and two hundred and fifty yards. During warm water conditions this would normally be an easy and leisurely swim. During December in Massachusetts, I was about to learn a lesson about cold water physiology and its effects on the human body. I did not know it at the time, but I was soon to be in a battle for my life. The clock was ticking.
I had moved to Massachusetts from Texas in the fall of 2007 with my wife Julie and young son, Josh. We had bought a house on the shore of Nuttings Lake and moved in on Halloween day. We came to love the serenity and beauty of the lake. We fished and swam in the summer time and skated and sledded on the shores in the winter time. The fishing on the lake was extraordinary. I spent many hours plying the lake for its big bass. The fishing was one of the reasons we decided to buy the house on the shore. We could catch fish from our dock or drop a small boat or canoe in the water and be catching fish within minutes of deciding to go out.
I grew up in Texas and was in and around water for most of my life. I passed a junior life saving course when I was in thirteen years old. I could swim underwater for fifty meters on a single breath of air. I spent many vacations in tropical waters where this aptitude allowed me to free dive to depths of forty feet and search the coral for lobster.
I bought my first motor boat when I was twenty years old. In later years at one point in my life I had one boat for water skiing and one boat for bass fishing. I learned to canoe white water in my twenties. In later years I took annual canoe trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the border of Minnesota and Ontario Canada.
During all these countless hours in boats and on the water, I was conscious of water safety and had learned to respect the power of water. The number one rule of water safety had been engrained in my thoughts and actions. Always wear a life jacket. It can easily save your life. I was about to learn the hard way, violation of this rule could have dire consequences.
December 2, 2011 was a beautiful late fall day of bright sunshine and calm winds. I had spent the late morning and early afternoon playing golf with friends. After a late lunch I decided that the conditions might be good for catching some fish on the lake. I had recently caught a three pound bass just off the shore of my dock. Fishing slows down considerably as the water temperature drops, but the fish you do catch can be large fish feeding heavily in anticipation of a long winter under the ice.
Within minutes I had my canoe in the water, along with three fishing rods each with a different lure, a tackle box and a small bucket. In my hast, I left my most important piece of gear in the shed, my life jacket. It was approximately three fifteen PM when I paddled out amongst the receding lily pads just off my dock and began my quest for Micropterous Salmoides, the largemouth bass.
Nuttings Lake is an approximately ninety acre pond In Billerica, Massachusetts. It is bisected by the Middlesex Turnpike into two ponds. The smaller of the two ponds is about thirty acres and the larger of the two is about sixty acres. The ponds are relatively shallow, with the deepest parts no more than fifteen feet deep. There is abundant aquatic vegetation throughout the lake. The lake is feed by a small stream and numerous springs which eventually flow out of the lake and make their way into the Concord River watershed. The conditions are ideal for a freshwater fishery and indeed Nuttings Lake is known for the large bass that can be plied from its water.
Living on the shore of the larger of the two ponds afforded me access to fish the lake during the best of times. I had spend countless hours in a two man bass boat learning intimate details of the lakes topography and best fishing spots. One of the best spots for catching large fish was a boulder field in the middle of the lake. After unsuccessfully fishing in the lily pad fields along the shore I headed out to the boulders in the middle of the lake.
Frank McLaughlin had decided to spend this beautiful Friday afternoon having a few drinks with friends at Mickees On The Water, a Restaurant and Tavern. Mickees sits on the corner of the Middlesex Turnpike and the north shore of the small pond on Nuttings Lake. From there, one is afforded a scenic view across the turnpike looking into the large pond. While passing the time over drinks, Frank and friends watched me as I canoed toward the bolder field in the middle of the lake.
I had become much too comfortable maneuvering my canoe around the lake. So much so, that I sometimes would fish standing up in the canoe. This affords one a better position for making casts and viewing the water as one fishes. It is extremely dangerous and should never be done in the best of conditions, much less in December when the water is cold. Frank noticed that I was fishing standing up and made a mental note as they continued their conversations on this Friday afternoon.
As the slightest of breeze gently pushed my canoe around, I sat back down and decided to paddle to a different spot to resume my fishing. This is the point in time where I dropped my paddle in the water. My instinctive reaction to reach for it and snatch it out of the water dumped my canoe and threw me in the frigid waters of Nuttings Lake.
Frank had taken his eyes off me for a moment, and when he looked back I was gone. Nothing but ripples remained on the water where I and my canoe had been previously. After a few seconds he was able to discern my head protruding from the water with the canoe nowhere in sight. After processing this scene Frank realized the situation for me could be dire. Frank was a fan of the TV show The Deadliest Catch. From watching this show he knew people falling in the water under cold conditions had very little time to live. He thought about the temperature of the water in Nuttings Lake and my predicament.
There are two types of people in this world. People who take action and those who do not. Frank is a man of action. His response to the situation presented to him and his timely actions would be the difference between life and death. Frank told the bartender to call 911. Frank ran to his truck and made his way to the closest shore where he hoped he could help out. The clock was ticking.
The task at hand for me was to swim to the dock below my friends house. The friend was Eileen Conway. As I started my swim I was thinking to myself she should be at home and could help me dry off once I got to shore. Eileen was indeed home, but her action would soon involve much more than dry towels.
As soon as I hit the cold water a vestige of our evolutionary hard wiring took over. It is called the mammalian diving reflex. This is an autonomic response in which our body shuts down blood circulation to the outer extremities and slows down our heart rate. This is an effort to keep the core of the body warm. In marine mammals such as whales, seals and porpoises, this allows them to hold their breath for long periods and dive to great depths. For a middle aged human swimming across the cold water of Nuttings Lake, this reflex actually lessens the time one can effectively function in the water. As the blood circulation is decreased to your arms and legs, they stop working efficiently.
The water temperature of the lake I would later learn was thirty six degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature the standard hypothermia tables indicate the time before a person reaches exhaustion or unconsciousness is between fifteen and thirty minutes. However, there is one caveat. Remaining still in the water conserves body heat. Movement in the water, such as swimming, removes heat from the body at a much faster rate. As I was soon to find out, my time to exhaustion was quickly moving towards the lower end of the scale.
As I began my swim across the lake I had no idea of the difficulty of the task at hand. I started out doing a breast stroke, as that allowed me to keep my head completely out of the water. I had on several layers of clothes and some heavy shoes. All of these were impeding my progress at swimming. However, I was confident in my ability to swim to the dock and I was only worried about the embarrassing situation I would have to explain to Eileen, family and friends when I reached the shore. At about the halfway point I soon realized the swim was going to be much more difficult than I anticipated. A small amount of doubt began to creep into my thoughts. I tried to focus only on the dock that I was swimming towards. The clock was ticking and time was running out.
At approximately three forty five PM a 911 call was received by the Billerica Police Department of a canoe tipped over in Nuttings Lake and a person in the water. Police, Fire and EMS units were dispatched to the scene. It was reported that the person had abandoned his canoe and was swimming towards shore. Patrolman Stephen Cogswell was one of the offices in route to the scene. Patrolman Cogswell was aware of the drowning that occurred on Nuttings Lake in 2009. He hoped this would not be the second one in two years.
As I was swimming I noticed my efforts were getting more and more difficult. It seemed the rain jacket I had on as an outer layer was inhibiting my arm strokes. I stopped for a second and attempted to remove the jacket in the water. As soon as I stopped swimming, I immediately began to sink in the water. Normally I could just hold my breath as I sank and remove the rain jacket. But at this point my breathing was extremely labored and as soon as I went underwater, my need for air was extreme. I realized it would be very easy for me to accidently inhale some water which could arrest my breathing and ultimately lead to my demise. I decided to keep swimming with the rain jacket on.
It was about this point that it was becoming evident this was no longer just an embarrassing situation. I was in a battle for survival, a battle for my life. In a way it was an odd epiphany. This lake which I had come to know and love was soon about to envelope me and ultimately extinguish my life. Odd random thoughts started to enter my consciousness. I tried to push them away and concentrate on my only task that mattered now. Reach the dock. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe. I focused on Eileens dock like a laser beam. I had to get to the dock. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke, stroke breathe. The lake was death. The dock was life. The clock was ticking. Time was running out and my time was near.
Frank had made it to the houses along the south east shore. He could still see me swimming towards this shore line. His plan was to borrow one of the many canoes or kayaks housed there, launch it and paddle out to me and assist me back to shore. The first canoe he came to he grabbed and pulled down toward the lake only to be stopped in his tracks by the locked chain preventing theft of the canoe.
He proceeded to the next house which happened to be Eileen Conways house. Eileen saw Frank as he ran by her window down to the shore. Frank proceeded to Eileens store of boats on the shore but these too were locked up. One more attempt with the boats next door to Eileens house, but again these were also under lock and chain.
By this time I had probably been in the thirty six degree water for about fifteen minutes. I was rapidly losing strength in my arms and legs. My progress towards Eileens dock had dropped to near zero. I was now in a life or death struggle with Nuttings Lake. The lake was winning.
I was still focusing on the dock, but now my head was starting to drift below the water. Stroke, stroke, stroke, underwater, pop up, breathe. Stroke, stroke, stroke, underwater, pop up, breathe.
At this point I was starting to swallow some of the lake water. It was only a matter of time before I would not pop up again. I did not want it to end this way. I had to focus. I had to dig down deep and use all my strength to get to Eileens dock. I thought of my wife Julie and my son Josh. I had to give it all I had for them. Stroke, stroke, stroke, underwater, swallow water, pop up, breathe. Stroke, stroke, stroke, underwater, swallow water, pop up, breathe. The clock was ticking. Time was running out. My time was near.
Frank could see I was starting to go under the water by now. He realized there would be no time to find an unlocked boat. I had made it to about twenty five yards of the dock. Eileen had come out of her house now to see what was going on. She had seen me canoeing earlier but thought nothing of it as this was a common sight out of her window. She had no idea I had gone down. She quickly realized the situation and proceeded to help Frank. At the same time Patrolman Cogswell, Patrolman Frank Rayne and Patrolman John Harring were arriving at the scene. Frank ran down to Eileens dock.
My focus was still on the dock. I knew the lake dropped off quickly away from the dock. I had to make it to the dock. The dock was life. The lake was death. I kept pushing on. Stroke, stroke, stroke, underwater, swallow water, pop up, breathe. Stroke, stroke, stroke, underwater, swallow water, pop up, breathe.
At this point my progress to the dock was zero. I was basically treading water and not doing a very god job at that. My head started spending more time underwater than above the water. All my strength was gone. It was all I could do to keep my head up long enough to breathe. I felt bad. I had failed. How would my wife Julie find out about my death? How would she tell my son Josh? I had to keep going with all my strength and all my efforts for as long as I could. I popped my head up one more time to take one last breath. My time was up.
Are you ok? Frank yelled at me from the shore. I could not believe it, someone was actually there! I tried to yell out but nothing would come out.
Frank yelled again, Are you ok?
I popped my head up out of the water one last time and with all my strength I was barely able to get out the words, No, help. And with this l proceeded to roll over on my back and start to sink below the water. The clock was no longer ticking. My time had run out.
Frank knew there was no more time. Frank decided to take action. Frank dove in the frigid water and swam out to rescue me.
When Frank got to me he went under the water to pull my head above the surface. Eileen had pulled out several life jackets and was proceeding to throw them in our direction. Unfortunately, Eileen is not very good at life jacket throwing, and they were landing everywhere but close to Frank and I. She decided that she was going to have to dive in and bring them to us, and so she did.
As my time had run out and I was drifting down into the water a strange serenity befell me. The last sound I remember was Frank splashing in the water. I was on my back drifting down when I felt a hand on me. As soon as I felt his hand I relaxed. My struggles were over I thought to myself. I lay back and let him guide me to salvation. Frank saved my life.
Patrolman Cogswell upon seeing the situation also dove in the water to rescue me. I vaguely remember him coming around and putting me a cross chest carry and pulling me towards the dock.
Frank, Eileen, Patrolmen Cogswell, Rayne and Harring pulled me to safety and lifted me out of the lake and onto the dock. The dock! The dock! Finally I was on the dock! This band of strangers had come together and rescued me from death and given me life. At that point in time they had all become heroes. And for this I will be eternally thankful.
The effects of hypothermia are quite dramatic. I had reached the point where my skin was blue from the cyanosis. I kept hearing questions being ask of me, but forming and speaking any more than one or two words was impossible. My legs felt like lead and I am quite sure I could not stand on my own. Movement of any kind was extremely difficult to impossible. My mouth was as dry as the Sahara desert. I was not in very good shape.
I was stripped of my wet clothing and placed in dry warm blankets and moved into the ambulance and eventually to the Lahey Clinic emergency room. My core temperature measured in the hospital was ninety two degrees. This was after I had been warmed up. It is estimated that my core temperature while I was in the water was below ninety degrees.
After several warm IVs and treatment with warm air blankets I recovered fully in the emergency room. I spent the night in the hospital for observation. The next day I was deemed to be completely recovered and was discharged. My wife and son picked me up from the hospital and drove me home. My wife insisted I wear my life jacket on the way home as we would be crossing Middlesex Turnpike and Nuttings Lake on the way.
Mere words to express the gratitude of mine and my family to my heroes seem feeble. But try I must. Thank you Frank! Thank you Eileen! Thank you Patrolman Cogswell! Thank you Patrolman Rayne! Thank you Patrolman Harring! Thank you to all the others whom I do not know who helped rescue me from death and gave me life. I will do my best not to squander it.
Jerry Paine December 3, 2011
The Chief of the Billerica Police Department Daniel Rosa will honor Frank, Eileen, Patrolmen Cogswell, Rayne and Herring at a ceremony on December 19, 2011.
Local reporting of the event is listed here
Wow! That’s a pretty good story.
Thanks for posting. (Glad you’re here to post.)
Praise be to our Heavenly Father for sending earthly angels!!!!
Where was the spare paddle (even if only a kids model)?
thanks for posting your story.
As the Irish sergeant once remarked to a 2nd Lt. Douglas MacArthur after a Moro bullet penetrated the crown of his campaign hat, “the rest of your life is pure velvet.” Deo Gratias, painster.
Amazing, thanks for sharing...glad you are ok!
Thank goodness for them, Jerry. I’m glad you’re okay now. Thank you for sharing this with us.All of those folks are heroes.
By the way, VERY well written description of what happened.
Great story and one to take to heart.
This doesn’t only apply to northern lakes in winter. Northern lakes can also be frigid in spring. So while the air temp could be mild, the water may still be in the 30’s.
As you learned, it’s always wise to wear a life jacket when the water temp is 60 or below.
Dittos about the extra paddle in any kind of boat at any time.
Praise be to God and all involved. You sir are a very lucky man, life is fragile
I’m happy that you are here to tell us about it.
I’m betting you will never again be on the water without your life jacket firmly in place.
God is good.
You my friend were very, very lucky.
What a story! Thanks to God and those five individuals, you made it out alive.
My favorite part was when Eileen dove into the lake.
Bless them all and bless you. You have a gift, the rest of your life. Enjoy it with both grace and gusto!
Wow, your very lucky.
I know the area, was born and raised in Mass.
Same place as my life jacket, in the shed. I am not proud of my stupidity.
So true, so true.
Wow. Like reading a Reader’s Digest story. Very well written. Happy things worked out for you. That so many people dived into the freezing water to help is a wonderful testament to the nobility of the species. God bless.
I am glad you survived.
Some rules I remember from lifesaving.
1) The one that saved me “Don’t Panic”
2) The one Frank used “Throw, Row, Go”
God bless and don’t forget the damn life vest/PFD
Basil you are so right!
Good to hear from you again. Not sure if you remember me, but we met once in Austin.
Seriously, well told and take care.
Once, I was camping with some buddies by a watershed lake (more of a pond) in WV in early April.
A storm came up and we had to abandon camp due to rising water. We were camping where the feeder creek entered the lake, The next day, our camp was underwater. The jon boat that I had beached on the side of the creek was gone.
My party walked around the perimeter of the lake, through the woods. My friend’s little brother, who was about 14 at the time, went ahead of us. When he got to the wide part of the lake, he saw the boat on the opposite side, about 100 yards away.
Without waiting for us, he jumped in and swam after the boat. Even in early spring, the water was cold enough to pose a real risk of hypothermia. He didn’t bother to take his boots off.
He made it to the boat and paddled it back to us. Only later did we learn how close to death he came that day. He’d gone under a few times and struggled to the surface. Despite that, he never called out to us.
When he told his dad about it afterward, he cried.
If he’d drowned, I’d have never forgiven myself. Today he’s got a lovely family with four kids.
I guess the moral is: water is a jealous b***h and not one to be trifled with. Like you, I tell everyone in hopes that they don’t end up making the same mistake.
Merry Christmas and God bless all those heroes!!
Glad you survived.
I’m glad you made it.
When I was nine, I jumped out of a canoe wearing a life jacket into a Quebec lake in early fall, because I was mad at my brother. Within a minute, I couldn’t move and he had to tow me in. The humiliation.
When I was eleven, I jumped into a pond in Sweden in early June to rescue a toy my little brother had dropped. It was about 15 feet out from the dock, and by the time I reached the toy I couldn’t take a breath, and on the way back I was losing the use of my arms and legs. Just made it.
The mammmalian diving reflex is stronger in children but those two episodes have given me a fearful respect of cold water.
That is an amazing story! This is going to be a very memorable Christmas season for you and yours I bet. Your family gets the best gift, YOU.
The sarcastic part of my brain was whispering “What kind of Texan moves to Massataxes?” and “I hope Josh goes to private school”
I think I was too stupid to panic intially and too cold eventually.
Throw, Row, Go....Have not heard that for a while.
Eileen went and bought two throwable life preservers the next day. One for her side of the lake, one for mine.
Dont listen to him. Always wear your life jacket when in a boat.
Even the best of swimmers can be knocked unconscious when falling out of a boat. Even in warm water you can become exhausted and drown if in the water long enough.
A life jacket does you no good if you do not wear it.
Glad you’re OK. I’d second the suggestions upthread about an extra paddle and suggest a hole through the handle and light line securing it to the canoe.
There was shrinkage!!!
(Glad you made it. A story is so much better than an obituary.)
When you are hypothermic it is very difficult to speak, much less yell out. I had no idea until I experienced it myself. When Frank first ask me if I was OK, I tried to yell but nothing came out. When I finally was able to speak, it was not loud at all.
Almost dying for a toy must have been one of the dumbest things ever, right? At least I hope you didn’t keep trying to top it.
I remember my dad went fishing once. I had a toy battleship, and some string.... it was like flying a kite on the water until the string broke. I was very upset.
Good thing my dad was too smart to jump in after it, because it was starting to rain and the wind was pushing it quickly. He went into a floating boat dock kind of thing and caught it passing underneath.
It wasn’t freezing, the water was probably cold though. But with a storm coming in and the water was really choppy for a big Texas lake, my dad was in his 50’s I think. (I was born 40 years behind him)
I just consider myself working behind enemy lines.
"I hope Josh goes to private school"
Better than that, he is home schooled!
People on the verge of drowning usually cannot call out, because they can’t get their mouths above water, or the second air leaves their lungs to make a sound, they sink. Or reflex keeps their mouths closed.
They don’t thrash and splash, because they can’t get their arms out of the water.
They are vertical in the water, with their heads tipped back, and there is panic in their eyes, and they are silent and almost still - those are the signs that drowning is imminent.
I once saw my friend’s three y.o. daughter in this state, not realizing what it meant, I thought she was treading water. She was supposed to be a good little swimmer. Thank God my friend recognized what was going on before she came to harm. But the guilt stays with me even though she wasn’t hurt - I could have saved her from some time of terror.
Later I read a lifeguard’s account of what a drowning person looks like - an ocean lifeguard with decades of experience and hundreds of rescues - not some teenager at your local pool - and his account was exactly what I had seen with that little girl.
Well, you sound like a good upstanding citizen. You even moved up there so you could pay more than your “fair share”.
Darn, my sarcastic side keeps me from being serious sometimes.
We have ponds in Texas too..... Lake Lewisville, Grapevine Lake, Lake Texhoma, Mountain Creek Lake etc
Canoes are stupid. I never saw the point to them in open water.
Good luck getting a fisherman who is just paddling or slowly trolling along a lake shoreline to wear a life jacket. When the water is warm, they’re not going to do it. Even when it’s cold they probably won’t, although they should.
It’s a no brainer when you’re paddling in a river with current or running a powerboat in a lake or salt water.
I fished them all my friend. I grew up on Lake TEXOMA. This is where I leared to water ski.
Funny thing is all the lakes in Texas are man made, except one.
Boy do I miss Texas!
I always wondered where the water would come from if I went out and dug a lake. lol.
Glad you have another chance.
Praise God for good friends.
Beautifully written. Bravo to your rescue.
Awesome story my FRiend, glad you are still with us!
I learned it as Reach, Throw, Row, Go.
59 year old Boy Scout. :-)
At least they should wear a floatation belt. Not technically a life preserver but it may keep you alive if you can stay conscious.
Wow. That’s an awesome story of survival and heroism. My sarcastic side wants to say your first mistake was moving from Texas.
I am so glad you survived.
Thank you for sharing that story. And good for your wife to make you wear that life jacket on the ride home!
Of course I remember you! (sort of...LOL!)