A Queens man clinging to an overturned kayak in Long Island Sound drifted a mile and half off shore before being safely rescued Thursday afternoon with the assistance of a Suffolk Police helicopter, according to Wading River Fire Chief Kevin McQueeney.
The kayaker, 61-year-old Andrew Punella, who was wearing a life vest, used his cell phone to call his wife and alert her that his kayak was submerged and he was drowning in the water near the Shoreham power plant. Then the phone went dead, Chief McQueeney said.
The Wading River Fire Department initiated a water rescue and multiple departments were notified to assist, including the Riverhead Fire Department, which had a dinghy ready to launch at Iron Pier.
Suffolk aviation officers John Carey and Richard Davin managed to spot the distressed kayaker and direct the rescue boats to his location, according to Suffolk police.
“He had already lost his marine radio and cell phone at the time,” the chief said. “Thank God for aviation or we wouldn’t possibly be able to find him.”
Suffolk Marine Bureau Officers Steven Tarolli and Christopher Erickson, who were onboard Marine Delta, pulled the man aboard their vessel, police said.
The man was transported by a Wading River Fire Department ambulance to Peconic Bay Medical Center. Chief McQueeney said he appeared to be OK despite extended time in the water. Police said he was treated for hypothermia.
The call came in to the fire department at 11:52 a.m.
The chief said he believed the man had started the trip in Port Jefferson and he became separated from the group he was with, ultimately drifting far off coast. He estimated the man had been in the water for about an hour and a half.
“Everything turned out great,” he said.
Photo caption: Three rescue boats in Long Island Sound off Wading River Creek Thursday afternoon. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)