Summer bliss turns dark for stranded jet skier
Noel Castilloveitia had spent a sublime late summer day at Crane Beach in Ipswich, swimming, jet skiing, and relaxing on the shore with several close friends. The group lingered late into the afternoon on Saturday, and by the time Castilloveitia and two others boarded their jet skis for the 40-mile trip home along the Merrimack River to Haverhill, it was nearly dusk.
The others made it, but Castilloveitia spent more than five hours alone, shivering in his skimpy wetsuit on a sandbar near Plum Island.
As they parted, his friends sped back to beat the setting sun; Castilloveitia took his time, remaining behind to smoke a cigarette. The engine on his Yamaha WaveRunner XLT1200 faltered, and he was on his own. As it got dark and the temperature dipped into the 50s, he became disoriented near the mouth of the river and eventually ran aground at low tide.
Safe at home yesterday, the 34-year-old North Andover roofer recalled his Saturday outing with a mix of relief and self-deprecating humor.
"It was starting to get dark," he said. "I couldn't see anything."
Without his cellphone to call for help, he was stranded, wearing only a short-sleeved wetsuit and lifejacket against a bracing wind. At one point, he tried to wave down a helicopter overhead that was searching for him, but to no avail.
When the tide came in, Castilloveitia was able to dislodge his jet ski and slowly make his way toward some red and blue lights on a boat he spotted off in the distance. Cold and exhausted, he whistled to get the skipper's attention. Finally, shortly before 2 a.m., he caught the attention of someone on the boat. It was an Ipswich Fire Department boat, and he was rescued
"I tried concentrating, saw them come closer, so I continued to whistle, continued to whistle, and they found me," he said.
Castilloveitia was taken to a Coast Guard station on the Merrimack River and treated for mild hypothermia, then released. In an interview yesterday, he downplayed the ordeal.
"Everything's fine," he said. "The Coast Guard did a good job."
Castilloveitia's friends contacted authorities shortly after 8 p.m., having realized he had been left behind. The Coast Guard, along with several other local and state agencies, found Castilloveitia after searching with a helicopter and several boats.
"I can't say enough about the Coast Guard and Harbor Patrol. They pulled out all the stops," said Richie Dupre, 28, of Newton, N.H., a friend of Castilloveitia's who sailed from Crane Beach on his 24-foot yacht. "They were planning on going through the night."
After they discovered Castilloveitia had not made it back, Dupre and his friends went back and searched for him until they heard on the radio that the Coast Guard had picked him up.
Castilloveitia paid about $8,000 for his personal watercraft, but Saturday's jet ski excursion might be his last.
"The last time I went out, I almost broke my leg," he said. "I think I'm going to sell this thing."
Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org