On Thursday, the Dock Bar and Grill in Montauk was aflutter with the good news of Mr. Aldridge’s survival. Anthony Sosinski, captain of the Anna Mary, nicknamed “Little Anthony” for his build, took handshakes and pats on the back as people marveled at the miraculous rescue story.
“It’s surreal,” he kept saying. “The Coast Guard told me the end isn’t always a happy scenario—that a lot of guys couldn’t hold on long enough. They told me it was basically unprecedented to see that many people out searching. They hadn’t seen that kind of support before.”
The Anna Mary left the dock at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night for a two-day lobstering trip, planning for a 50-mile excursion South of Montauk. An hour later, Mr. Sosinski was relieved from duty and went to sleep, expecting Mr. Aldridge to wake him up at 2 a.m.
As 2 a.m. came and went, Mr. Sosinski, 45, continued to sleep until he woke up at 5:30 a.m., knowing something was very wrong—Mr. Aldridge wasn’t on board.
Sixty miles from land, Mr. Sosinski assessed his boat: lobster tanks were filled with water, the cooler was in back of the boat, and its handle, cleanly broken off the cooler, was on the floor.
He immediately called the Coast Guard and filled them in on where he thought his life-long friend, nicknamed “Johnny Load,” may have fallen overboard, given the speed the boat was going, what course it was on and what duties Mr. Aldridge had done.
“I thought, ‘He ain’t losing me that easily,'” Mr. Sosinski said. “I didn’t want to come home without him.”
The search was on. At least 25 commercial fishing boats and charter vessels teamed up, including Jimmy Buffet and his boat the Last Mango, to create a 12-boat search flotilla, 12 miles long, and each a half-mile apart, as the Coast Guard worked to find Mr. Aldridge.
He had last been seen wearing nothing but an “Anna Mary, Blessing of the Fleet” T-shirt, shorts and boots. He also had a handy pocket knife, which, according to Mr. Sosinski, saved his life.
According to Mr. Sosinski, he floated from buoy to buoy, using his boots as flotation devices, and cut the buoys loose from lobster gear, which belonged to a Rhode Island company. He switched out his boots for buoys.
“He told me, ‘I didn’t panic’ and ‘I knew I had to stay up until first light to find lobster gear,'” Mr. Sosinski said, adding that his core body temperature got down to 94 degrees. “The condition we are in in this job has a lot to do with him surviving, and you play out so many scenarios in your head when you’re out in the ocean.”
As the search went on for about eight hours, the community on dry land was hoping and praying for a miraculous outcome. Mr. Sosinski said 50 to 60 people were waiting on the dock for Mr. Aldridge when he arrived.
“Our community is amazing,” Mr. Sosinski said. “And the Coast Guard needs to hear that they need a pat on the back. They didn’t say to me ‘No,’ when I asked for planes and helicopters. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
UPDATE, 1 P.M.:
Mr. Aldridge was found clinging to a fishing buoy 43 miles south of Montauk, according to Coast Guard Lieutenant Ray Jamros of Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod.
Lt. Jamros was one of four crewmen aboard the MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter that brought him home.
“As we went past it, we saw an arm waving from behind the buoy, and we immediately came down into a hover,” he said. “He was in the water, holding on to it in a T-shirt, shorts and rubber boots he was wearing on the deck of the boat.”
Lt. Jamros said that Mr. Aldridge had a “good idea” to take his boots, empty them of water, and put them upside-down under his armpits and use them as floating devices. He swam near the buoy and grabbed onto it. “It’s really a good idea not to waste energy out there,” Lt. Jamros said.
Four seven hours, two MH-60T Jayhawk helicopters, one HC-144 Casa fixed-wing aircraft, small Coast Guard boats and several commercial fishing boats scanned 660 square miles, about the size of London, to find the man.
“It is very difficult to find a person floating in the water with no life jacket or bright clothing or distinct markings,” he said. “A lot of times in New England, the survivability is very low. The water temperature is generally so cold at this time of year, but the water was nice and warm and that dramatically improved his chance of surviving. I knew if he was a good swimmer and had some way to stay afloat, he’d have a good chance to stay alive.”
Despite their fatigue, the four-man crew continued to search. Once they found him, their rescue swimmer was deployed to find out Mr. Aldridge’s condition. He was feeling “pretty good,” and so they pulled him up to the helicopter in a rescue basket and gave him blankets, towels and bottles of water, Lt. Jamros said.
“Thinking that you wouldn’t want to be the one down in the water gets you to look harder,” he added. “We wanted to search as long as we could even though we were running low on fuel and even though we were exhausted and had been up there all day. Flying around in a helicopter can be tiring, but we were ready to keep going.”
UPDATE, Thursday, Noon:
Mr. Aldridge told the Coast Guard that he saw sharks as he waited for rescue on Wednesday, according to Senior Chief Petty Officer Jason Walter of Station Montauk.
“He said he was dodging fins,” he said. “Survival mode must’ve set in. It’s pretty uncommon a rescue like this happens. There are a lot of stories down south where a lot of people fall overboard, but there is warmer weather and they survived for a long period of time. Up here it’s pretty unlikely.”
Petty Officer Walter said the water on Wednesday was 75 degrees and it was “very calm with light winds and the water wasn’t rough either so he could float on his back.”
He said in a case like this, someone lost at sea should keep their arms and legs together and try not to swim. He said swimming exerts energy and the body loses its core temperature.
“I was on one of the smaller boats that ran out of fuel and came back 45 minutes before the helicopter picked him up,” he said. “The family was at the station and it was a pretty somber time. I didn’t have any good news.”
When Mr. Aldridge was found it “changed the mood pretty quick,” Petty Officer Walter said. “It was really an amazing thing.”
According to the reports he heard, Petty Officer Walter said that the time Mr. Aldridge went overboard, 3:30 a.m., is speculation based on times he completed certain tasks on board and tasks that went undone. He said the crew found a broken handle on a heavy cooler that he apparently tried to move by himself and went over the side of the boat.
“There was such a large search area because of the elapsed time from when he was last seen on the boat and when it was called into the Coast Guard at 6 a.m.,” he said. “There was an eight- or nine-hour window we had and we didn’t know where he was. There was great participation from all fishing vessels.”
He said good samaritans on other fishing boats kept a look out for Mr. Alridge, while Coast Guard crews from New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut aided in the search.
The last he heard, Mr. Aldrige was still in the Falmouth Hospital in Massachusetts for observation.
UPDATE, 4:48 p.m.:
The missing fisherman, Mr. Aldridge, was rescued alive by the U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday afternoon approximately 43 miles south of Montauk.
He was treated for dehydration, exposure and hypothermia and taken to Falmouth Hospital in Massachusetts for further evaluation and treatment after being found at an unspecified time by a Coast Guard MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter rescue crew from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod.
The eight-hour search spanned 660 square miles, about the size of 378,000 American football fields, the Coast Guard said.
“I’d like to thank all the agencies, fishermen and friends for their efforts to find my brother,” Cathy Patterson, Mr. Aldridge’s sister, was quoted as saying in a Coast Guard statement.
The officer in charge of Station Montauk, Senior Chief Petty Officer Jason Walter, called the search and rescue coordination “exceptional.”
“The fishing crews allowed us to search a much greater area,” he said in a statement. “To find this man in the water after this much time is amazing.”
The missing fisherman has been identified by the U.S. Coast Guard as John Aldridge, who is described as 5 feet 9 inches tall, 150 pounds, and last seen wearing a T-shirt, shorts and sandals during his watch relief at 9 p.m. on Tuesday.
Mr. Aldridge, a crew member of the 44-foot lobster vessel the Anna Mary, was reported missing based on missed watch relief times and being unresponsive to callbacks from another fishing vessel at 4 a.m., the Coast Guard said.
The search continued on Wednesday afternoon about 5 miles off Montauk Point.
In addition to the two rescue boat crews from Station Montauk, aircraft and two helicopters from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, several commercial fishing vessels and volunteers assisted with the search.
The U.S. Coast Guard is searching for a commercial fisherman reported missing Wednesday morning from his boat sailing out of Montauk.
The man, one of three crew members hauling in lobster traps on the Anna Mary, was last seen at 9 p.m. when he took over watch of the boat about five miles south of Montauk Point. He was reported missing by another crew member at 6:30 a.m. to the Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, in New Haven, Connecticut.
The man was not wearing a life jacket when he was last seen, according to a press release from the Coast Guard.
A public affairs officer for the Coast Guard detachment in Manhattan said she did not have any further information about the man and did not know when the boat originally departed.
According to the release, there are two rescue boats from Station Montauk, one boat from Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and two helicopters from the Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod in Cape Cod, assisting in the search.
Reporters Colleen Reynolds and Kyle Campbell contributed to this story.