A life­jacket and a lot of luck saves Ran­dom Is­land man

Bill Fitz­patrick says neigh­bours, first re­spon­ders and his daugh­ter are ‘he­roes’

The Packet (Clarenville) - - Front page - BY JONATHAN PAR­SONS

A life­jacket and a whole lot of luck meant a happy end­ing to a day that could have ended in tragedy for a Ran­dom Is­land man last week.

Bill Fitz­patrick of El­liott’s Cove says he is thank­ful to sev­eral peo­ple, he calls “he­roes” af­ter things started to go wrong for him on Satur­day, Sept. 1, as he was fishing for a few cod just off the shore from his house.

The 67 year-old was fishing from 12-foot alu­minum boat on Ran­dom Sound; just off from the shore­line, as he’s done many times be­fore dur­ing the 11 years he’s lived in El­liott’s Cove.

He told The Packet he launches his boat, which has a 2.6 horse­power out­board mo­tor, from the beach on the back of his prop­erty.

Af­ter spend­ing all day fishing from about 11 a.m. and not getting any bites, Fitz­patrick fi­nally started haul­ing in sev­eral fish af­ter 4 p.m. as the wind came up and it got rougher.

“As the weather wors­ened, my fishing luck im­proved,” Fitz­patrick re­calls. “There came a time when I knew I should come in but out of stu­pid­ity and stub­born­ness to get my five fish, I stayed out too long. That was the cause of the prob­lem.”

Fi­nally, with his five fish caught, he pulled up his grap­pling an­chor and be­gan to re­turn to shore.

He no­ticed how much he was drift­ing with the waves be­com­ing stronger and stronger.

He says when he tried to po­si­tion the head of his boat into the waves he was hit by a big wave. Then the wind caught the small, lightweight boat and it cap­sized, send­ing him over­board.

Thank­fully, Fitz­patrick was wear­ing a life vest and was able to hold onto the boat. He says as soon as he went over, he didn’t want to lose con­tact with the boat; he stayed calm, figuring he would drift to shore in­stead of hav­ing to swim.

“I didn’t re­ally panic that much be­cause the wa­ter out there is sort of my back­yard any­way … This boat is go­ing ashore and I’m go­ing in with it.”

Soon af­ter, how­ever, he saw all the con­tents of the boat float­ing ahead of him. His buck­ets of lures and other fishing gear were drift­ing away with the cur­rent while he was still stay­ing in one spot.

His grap­pling an­chor had hooked to the ocean floor when the boat over­turned, he re­al­ized.

That’s when he be­gan to get ner­vous, he says.

He knew he had to start yelling for help, as he would not be able to float ashore.

“That was the first time I re­ally worried when I re­al­ized that,” he re­calls. “I said, ‘I could die here of hy­pother­mia.’”

When he started to call out “Help!” Fitz­patrick says what hap­pened next was un­be­liev­able.

The wind must have been blow­ing the right way to carry his voice to­ward shore and his house.

His teenaged daugh­ter Laci was in her room in the house, hun­dreds of feet from shore, lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. Thank­fully she still heard her fa­ther’s cries.

She turned off her mu­sic and walked to shore to in­ves­ti­gate.

When she re­al­ized her fa­ther was in trou­ble, she im­me­di­ately called 911.

“She’s a very level-headed, ma­ture, smart girl,” he says, beam­ing with pride.

By this time, an­other of his neigh­bours had no­ticed some­thing amiss and called for emer­gency re­sponse as well.

Fitz­patrick’s neigh­bours from both sides of the road, in­clud­ing his brother and other friends, had gath­ered look­ing for a way to help, as they waited for the RCMP and am­bu­lance to ar­rive.

What they needed was a boat to get out to help him. And there was no other boat on the beach.

His neigh­bor, Brit­tany Hynes’ re­mem­bered an­other neigh­bor had a boat and trailer still hooked on to his ATV. Mal­colm Patey’s boat was soon on the beach and in the wa­ter, with Patey, Brit­tany’s fa­ther Randy Verge and a po­lice of­fi­cer on board and head­ing to­wards Fitz­patrick.

Fitz­patrick says by this time he had been in the wa­ter for over an hour. Through all of this, he says, all he could see was his daugh­ter be­cause she was wear­ing a pink sweater.

“All this time I was be­ing buf­feted by re­ally big waves. I had every­thing I could do to keep con­tact with the boat.”

When his rescuers reached him, they couldn’t get him aboard the boat with tip­ping them­selves over. The RCMP of­fi­cer held onto Fitz­patrick as they slowly towed him back to shore, al­most a kilo­me­ter away.

“She did some job of putting me at my ease,” Fitz­patrick says of the po­lice of­fi­cer. “Every­thing she said was so en­cour­ag­ing and re­as­sur­ing.”

Once ashore, Fitz­patrick’s his best friend Rick Patey was wait­ing — wad­ing out to meet the boat and bring in Fitz­patrick. Patey told The Packet he felt so help­less wait­ing around as they launched the boat to res­cue his friend, who was just was bob­bing around in the wa­ter.

Rick and Mal­colm Patey later went out and recovered Fitz­patrick’s boat and mo­tor.

Fitz­patrick was car­ried by a back­board to the wait­ing am­bu­lance, and cov­ered in blan­kets to treat hy­pother­mia. He was un­con­trol­lably shiv­er­ing and had dif­fi­culty speak­ing but says he stayed lu­cid through the en­tire or­deal. While he was in the wa­ter he kept test­ing his grip to make sure he could keep hold­ing on to the boat. He says he would have tried to swim for it if he knew that help was not on the way.

He spent the night at Dr. G. B. Cross Hos­pi­tal in Clarenville, treated for hy­pother­mia and a mi­nor abra­sion on his ribs caused from him hit­ting the boat re­peat­edly.

JONATHAN PAR­SONS PHOTO

Bill Fitz­patrick of El­liott’s Cove, Ran­dom Is­land

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