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Story - News

Oct 28, 2009 9:47 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Fisherman counts his blessings after falling off his boat

Oct 28, 2009 9:47 AM

A distressed fisherman was rescued off the ocean side of Dune Road in Westhampton Beach last Thursday, October 22, after falling out of his boat in rough seas and spending more than an hour in the ocean.

John Signer, 46, of Holbrook was fishing by himself just west of the Moriches Inlet at around 3 p.m. on October 22 when he leaned over the stern of his boat, a 1985 Sportcraft, and fell into the approximately 58-degree water below.

“The wind was going way faster than I could swim,” said Mr. Signer, adding that he quickly realized that he was too far from shore to swim back to land after his 25-foot boat drifted away in the current.

After flailing about in the chilly water for about a half an hour, Mr. Signer said he began to question whether or not he would survive—adding that thoughts of his wife, Sue, and their two sons, John, 17, and James, 13, began to dominate his thoughts.

Around the same time, Dune Road neighbors Joe Azznara, Nancy Axthelm and Jonathan Perlroth were taking their afternoon stroll on the beach when they observed a boat that had washed up on the shore near 611 Dune Road in Westhampton Beach. The boat was empty and they immediately called Southampton Town Police.

Moments later, they said they heard a man cry for help about 100 yards off shore.

“It was a little frightening,” Ms. Axthelm recalled.

Mr. Perlroth, who was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, said he decided to go into the ocean to try and save Mr. Signer. Mr. Perlroth said he took a few steps into the water but quickly realized that it would be too far to swim without help.

It was then that he started yelling at people on the beach, asking if anyone had a flotation device.

“Somebody brought me a hot pink bumper,” Mr. Perlroth said.

Hot pink bumper in tow, he swam out to Mr. Signer and, upon reaching him, helped keep his head above water until rescuers arrived about 10 minutes later.

“I didn’t even look back,” Mr. Perlroth said of his journey through the chilly water.

Several miles to the west, Mark Grivas, the captain of a boat for Tow Boat U.S., a marine salvage company, heard over the marine radio that there was a distressed man in the water.

“I immediately sprung into action,” said Capt. Grivas, adding that it took him about 10 minutes to reach the two men. “I just said a ‘Hail Mary.’”

Capt. Grivas said that, when he first arrived at the scene, he did not see anyone in the water and no boats in the immediate vicinity. He then spotted the hot pink bumper and quickly realized that one victim had become two. He then notified the U.S. Coast Guard.

After carefully steering his boat toward the two men, Capt. Grivas said he lowered his anchor and got the victims aboard as fast as possible. Mr. Perlroth climbed onto the boat first and then he and Capt. Grivas helped pull Mr. Signer, who is 6-foot 3-inches tall and weighs nearly 240 pounds, aboard, according to Mr. Perlroth.

“Minutes meant everything at this point,” Capt. Grivas said.

By chance, a boat with the South Country Ambulance Company, which serves Brookhaven hamlet and Bellport Village, was on its first test drive and was near the Moriches Inlet when members heard the emergency call over the radio. Capt. Grivas said the ambulance boat pulled up next to him, but crew members were unable to come aboard due to choppy waters. The two boats moved further away from shore, toward calmer waters, and an ambulance crew member tossed Capt. Grivas a medical supply pack.

EMTs were later able to board Capt. Grivas’s boat and immediately began attending to Mr. Signer who was suffering from hypothermia. He had also inhaled quite a bit of water.

“His legs were blue,” said Mr. Perlroth, who did not require any medical attention. “He was in bad shape.”

Officials with the Westhampton Beach Fire Department, U.S. Coast Guard, Southampton Town Bay Constable, Eastport Fire Department and Westhampton War Memorial Ambulance all responded to the scene. A Suffolk County Police Medevac helicopter also responded but was not utilized. Sea Tow, another marine towing company, also sent a boat to the area.

Mr. Signer was brought to the Coast Guard Station Moriches in East Moriches and then transported by the East Moriches Community Ambulance to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue. He was held several days for observation and released on Monday.

Mr. Signer was able to see his sons again Friday morning and said that as soon as he laid his eyes on them, he started crying.

“I just broke down because I never thought I would see them again,” said Mr. Signer, who is expected to make a full recovery.

As for his rescuer, Mr. Perlroth said he is not sure if he is deserving of being labeled a hero.

“It’s what I felt I had to do given the circumstances,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was being reckless.”

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so happy he is o.k.
By local (106), north sea on Oct 22, 09 9:37 PM
That man was so lucky, we were watching the whole rescue from the beach. No one on the beach could get to him. 2 sea tow boats were there first. One of them finally got him out of the water. Who is south country ambulance? and where are they from? They were first rescue boat even before the coast gaurd. We watched through binoculars as one man from the ambulance boat jumped onto the boat the man was on. it was amazing to watch considering how rough it was on the water. Whoever they are they are ...more
By SANDNSUN (1), WESTHAMPTON on Oct 23, 09 3:21 AM
1 member liked this comment
I believe South country Ambulance is located in Brookhaven Hamlet...
By cush870 (31), east quogue on Oct 23, 09 9:25 AM
It serves Brookhaven Hamlet, Bellport Village, & Hagerman...as well as, I suppose, those in need elsewhere!
By mjb (14), This Island on Oct 26, 09 3:09 PM
Wow, what a story and rescue. Funny headline - Distressed Swimmer ? I guess he WAS distressed after falling out of his boat ! And did the boat then end up on the beach under power , while he got left behind in the water ?
Good work and thanks due , to people on beach and of course to the rescuers. As someone says above - What a lucky guy.
By Sag (54), Sag harbor on Oct 23, 09 10:01 AM
Did the boat capsize? Looks pretty nice out in the picture if that was the day.
By poools81 (10), hampton bays on Oct 23, 09 8:14 PM
Mr Perlroth deserves an award for heroism !! What a great job he did !
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Oct 28, 09 10:27 AM
I just want to add that my somewhat jokey comments above, were written before this article was fleshed out with the scary details and the heroic rescue efforts by Mr. Perlroth, Cpt. Grivas, and all the others involved.
By Sag (54), Sag harbor on Oct 30, 09 4:50 PM
I agree with Bill in Riverhead, Mr. Perlroth definitely deserves recognition with an award. Hopefully monetary. His quick unselfish act exemplifies heroism with absolute disregard for his own life. A role model, a real American hero, not some pro baller or actor ,making millions, which is what a lot of kids and adults look up to;what a disgrace....... Mr. Perlroth is a hero in every sense of the word, also outstanding commendations for their quick and professional rescue actions, should be given ...more
By Johnny Nova (83), Northampton on Nov 7, 09 9:21 PM