Icy Rescue on Napeague Harbor

One person was taken to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital after falling through the ice on Napeague Harbor, near the Walking Dunes, late Sunday afternoon. Durell Godfrey

A man was rescued and a dog died after both fell through the ice and into Napeague Harbor just before dusk on Sunday. Two Montauk men down on the beach, about half a mile from the end of Napeauge Harbor Road, heard cries for help and went in after the man and his dog.

A 911 call came in for the rescue at 4:29 p.m., according to Amagansett Fire Chief Bill Beckert. East Hampton Town police, the Amagansett Fire Department, and the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad responded to 98 Napeague Harbor Road, in the area known as the Walking Dunes, a trail on the northeastern side of Napeauge that has beach access.

Chris Beckert, the second assistant chief, was the first to arrive. He picked up two police officers in his S.U.V. and headed out on the beach. His brother, Chief Bill Beckert, who arrived after Amagansett's paramedic first responder, also picked up a police officer. They found three men in the water: the dog owner and two clammers, Chief Bill Beckert said. The air temperature was about 39 degrees.

Town Police Sgt. Danny Roman said he believed the man had fallen through the ice about 100 yards from shore after going after his dog. The name of the 50-to-60-year-old was not immediately available.

The clammers, he said, went to his rescue, putting a rope around him in about four and a half to five feet of water. "They were slowly moving him toward shore. He was probably hypothermic by then," Sergeant Roman said.

One of the first firefighters to arrive at the beach happened to have a six-foot dinghy in the back of his pickup truck, Chief Beckert said. The chiefs and the officers grabbed it and waded out into the water, through the ice, while keeping the dingy on top of the ice, he said. By this time, one of the clammers had gotten out of the water on his own, but the other one was beginning to struggle in the cold water with the dog owner.

The fire and police officers, in about waist-high water and in their street clothes, were able to lift the dog owner into the skiff and drag it back across the ice to shore, Sergeant Roman said. "We got his wet clothes off, wrapped him in a blanket, ran him in a pickup up to the parking lot to the ambulance that was waiting."

While he was conscious and alert, the man was exhibiting signs of hypothermia. "He wasn't able to do much himself," Chief Beckert said.

Meanwhile, other officers and Chief Beckert went back in and helped the clammer wade back to shore. "The gentleman was starting to tire," Sergeant Roman said, adding that he had done "a great job" in pulling the victim closer to shore. "The man was 200, 250 pounds, plus soaking wet clothes. It wasn't like he was dragging him through the water — he was having to break ice with his body and pull the guy as he moved through to shore." The clammer was wearing waders and got water in them, the sergeant said.

At about 4:50 p.m., fire personnel reported on the radio that everyone was out of the water. The dog owner was soon taken to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. Though the clammer was also rescued, he was able to walk to his truck, where he took off his wet clothes and got warm. He refused medical assistance.

A few minutes later, police requested the assistance of East Hampton Town Animal Control and reported that there were two dogs at the scene, with one still stuck in the ice. East Hampton Ocean Rescue personnel went into the water — about chest deep, police and fire officials estimated — to pull the 30-pound white dog to shore, Sergeant Roman said.

"He was cold," Chief Beckert said of the dog. "He didn't have a whole lot of movement. He had shallow breathing." 

Once on shore, fire personnel wrapped the dog in blankets and warmed it in a truck before taking it to meet the animal control officer. Sergeant Roman reported that it had died.

"It was very sad. The man was very lucky, though," he said of the dog's owner. "He's pretty lucky. He was probably in the water 20 to 30 minutes. He was definitely hypothermic."

Chief Beckert and Sergeant Roman agreed that rescuers worked quickly once they got to the scene. "Those guys should definitely get commended," Chief Beckert said of the clammers who stepped in before rescuers arrived.

The Amagansett Fire Department's two ambulances were called to the scene, along with a third from the Montauk Fire Department, which was not needed.  

The man went into the water about a half-mile past the end of Napeague Harbor Road.Durell Godfrey
Volunteers with the East Hampton Ocean Rescue Squad were ready for the ice rescue with Jet Skis.Durell Godfrey
Personnel stood by . . .Durell Godfrey