My name is Paul Tough, contributing writer to the New York Times magazine, and back in 2014, the magazine published a story that I wrote about one day in Montauk, New York.
And I remember it, I was living in Montauk at the time, and the way the story came about was there was one day in the middle of summer and 2013 where I and the rest of town started hearing helicopters and planes flying overhead. And word gradually spread, starting in the fishing community here in Montauk and then beyond to people like me that a fisherman, a lobsterman named John Aldridge had gone overboard in the middle of the night. And it turned into this big search, the whole town got involved, the news spread, and it really affected the town not just that day, but really that whole summer and beyond that.
I'm back in Montauk this summer and I've been swimming in the ocean every time I go out there and I'm bobbing in the waves even a few feet off shore, I think about John Auldridge and what it was like for him to be 40 miles from shore, completely alone in the middle of the ocean. And especially this year, I think, when we're all more isolated and cut off and quarantined than we have been before, there's something about the isolation that he felt with all these people trying to reach him and trying to connect to him.
But the barrier of the sea being between him and them, that really resonates more than ever. So here's my story, A Speck in the Sea read by Malcolm Hilgartner. Looking back, John Aldridge knew it was a stupid move when you're alone on the deck of a lobster boat in the middle of the night, 40 miles off the tip of Long Island, you don't take chances. But he had work to do. He needed to start pumping water into the Annamarie, holding tanks to chill so that when he and his partner, Anthony Lesinski, reached their first string of traps a few miles farther south, the water would be cold enough to keep the lobsters alive for the return trip.
In order to get to the tanks, he had to open a metal hatch on the deck and the hatch was covered by two thirty five gallon Kohlman coolers, giant plastic insulated ice chests that he and Satinsky filled before leaving the dock in Montauk Harbor seven hours earlier. The coolers full weighed about 200 pounds, and the only way for Auldridge to move them alone was to snag a box hook onto the plastic handle of the bottom one, brace his legs, lean back and pull with all his might.
And then the handle snapped.
Suddenly, Auldridge was flying backward, tumbling across the deck toward the back of the boat, which was wide open, just a flat, slick ramp leading straight into the black ocean a few inches below, Aldridge grabbed for the side of the boat as it went past his fingertips, missing it by inches. The water hit him like a slap. He went under, took in a mouthful of Atlantic Ocean and then surfaced sputtering. He yelled as loud as he could, hoping to wake Solinsky, who was asleep on a bunk below the front deck.
But the diesel engine was too loud and the Annamarie on autopilot moving due south at six and a half knots, was already out of reach. Its navigation lights receding into the night, Auldridge shouted once more, panic rising in his throat. And then silence descended. He was alone in the darkness, a single thought to his mind. This is how I'm going to die.
Aldridge was 45, a fisherman for almost two decades, most commercial fishermen in Montauk were born to the work, the sons and sometimes the grandsons of Montauk fisherman. But Auldridge was different. He chose fishing in his mid 20s, moving east on Long Island from the suburban sprawl where he grew up to be closer to something that felt real to him. He found work on a Draga and then on a lobster boat. And then in 2006, he bought the Annamarie with Solinsky is best friends since grade school.
Now they had a thriving business, 800 Trappes sitting on the bottom of the Atlantic and two times a week they take the boat out overnight, spend an 18 hour day hauling in their catch and return. The next morning, the Montauk loaded down with lobster and crab. So Sanski had a reputation on the docks as a fun loving loudmouth, a bit of a clown, he actually rode a unicycle, but Auldridge was the opposite. Quiet, intense, determined.
Work on the Annamarie was physically demanding an Auldridge who was lean but strong, drew a sense of accomplishment, even pride, and how much he was able to endure each trip, how long he could keep working without sleep, how many heavy traps he pulled out of the water, how quickly and precisely, he insists Linskey were able to unload them, restock them with bait and toss them back in. Now, alone in the water, he tried to use that strength to push down the fear that was threatening to overtake him.
No negative thoughts, he told himself, stay positive, stay strong. The first thing you're supposed to do if you're a fisherman and you fall in the ocean is to kick off your boots. They're dead weight that will pull you down. But as Aldwych treaded water, he realized that his boots were not pulling him down. In fact, they were lifting him up, weirdly, elevating his feet and tipping him backward. Aldridge's boots were an oddity among the members of Monteux commercial fishing fleet, thick, green rubber monstrosities that were guaranteed to keep your feet warm down to minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature Montauk had not experienced since the Ice Age.
So Sanski made fun of the boots, but Aldridge's like them. They were comfortable and sturdy and easy to slip on and off. And now, as he bobbed in the Atlantic, he had an idea of how they might save his life. Treading water awkwardly, Aldridge reached down and pulled off his left boot, straining, he turned it upside down, raised it up until it cleared the waves, then plunged it back into the water, trapping a boot size bubble of air.
Inside, he took to the inverted boot under his left armpit. Then he did the same thing with the right boot. It worked, they were like twin pontoons and treading water with his feet alone was now enough to keep him stable and afloat. The boots gave Aldridge a chance to think he wasn't going to sink, not right away anyway. But he was still in a very bad situation. He tried to take stock. It was about three thirty a.m. on July 24th, a clear, starry night lit by a full moon, the wind was calm, but there was a five foot swell, a remnant of a storm that blew through a couple of days earlier.
The North Atlantic water was chilly, 72 degrees, but bearable for now, dawn was still two hours away. Auldridge set a goal, the first of many he would assign himself that day, just stay afloat till sunrise. Once the sun came up, Auldridge knew someone was bound to start searching for him and he could begin to look for something bigger and more stable to hold on to. For now, though, there was nothing to do but scan the horizon for daylight and watch the water for predators.
For the first hour, the sea life mostly left him alone. But then in the moonlight, he saw two shark fins circling him less than 10 feet away. Blue sharks, they look like 350 pounds or so. Aldridge pulled his book Knife out of his pocket, snapped it open and gripped it tightly, ready to slash or stabbed. If the sharks tried to attack. Eventually, though, they swam away and Auldridge was alone again, rising and falling with the ocean swell.
He kept trying to drive away those negative thoughts, but he couldn't help that. Who would get his apartment if he didn't make it back? Who would take care of his dog? He thought about fishermen, friends who died, funerals he'd been to at St. Torres, the Catholic Church in Montauk, he thought about who would come to his own funeral if he didn't make it. But mostly he thought about his family back in Oakdale, the Long Island town where he grew up, his parents, who had been married for almost 50 years and still lived in the house where Auldridge was born, his brother, his sister, his little nephew, Jake.
It was a close knit middle class Italian and Irish family. His father was retired from the Oldsmobile dealership in Queens, where he commuted to work for decades. Aldrich pictured them all asleep in their beds and thought about the phone calls they would soon be getting. His family didn't bring it up much anymore, but Aldrich knew that none of them like the fact that he had taken up such a dangerous profession in his 20s when he was starting out as a fisherman.
His parents were constantly trying to talk him out of it. They gave up eventually. But even now, every time he said goodbye to his mother, she looked at him as if it were the last time she was going to see him. Alone in the darkness, he remembered a conversation he had a few months earlier with his sister over beers in her backyard. They were talking about a friend of Aldridge's named Wallace Gray, a fisherman who drowned off Cape Cod when his scallop boat sank in bad weather.
It wasn't a very cheerful conversation, and they both knew that they weren't talking only about Gray. Out of nowhere, Auldridge felt compelled to make his sister a promise if I ever get into trouble out there, he told her, just know that I'm going to do everything I can to get back home. It was a little after 6:00 a.m. when Anthony Lesinski woke up on board the Annamarie the meat he and Auldridge hired to work this particular trip, an old friend named Mike Milazzo got up first.
And when he saw that Auldridge was missing, he yelled for Lesinski. They were both sleep dazed, confused by the daylight. What time was it, where were they? So Sanski tried to puzzle it out just before he went to sleep at nine p.m., he told Auldridge to wake him at eleven thirty pm. Now, it was past dawn. Even if Auldridge had decided to let him sleep as he sometimes did, surely he would have woken Satinsky by the time they got to their first trial.
But they were more than 15 miles past their traps, almost 60 miles offshore. What could have happened? The Annamarie is a 45 foot boat and most of its surface is taken up by a flat open deck, so there aren't that many places to search for a missing person. Still, so Sanski and Milazzo looked everywhere. One hatch cover on the deck was off, and Satinsky thought maybe Aldridge had fallen into the open lobster tank, hit his head and drowned.
He lay face down on the deck and stuck his head through the hatch, ignoring the powerful smell. No sign of Auldridge. So Sanski ran to the VHF radio, which was bolted to the ceiling in the small wheelhouse toward the front of the boat and grabbed the microphone, he switched to Channel 16, the distress channel, and at 622 a.m., he called for help, his voice shaking. Coast Guard, this is the Annamarie. We've got a man overboard.
The Coast Guard's headquarters for Long Island and coastal Connecticut is in New Haven.
Sean Davis is a petty officer there. And it was his job that morning to stand watch at the station's communications unit. Davis was part of a five person watch that had just come on duty. Davis radioed back asking for details, and Solinsky started feeding them to him when he last saw Auldridge, the course the boat was on where they were now. No, Auldridge wasn't wearing a life preserver. No, he wasn't wearing a GPS distress beacon. No, he didn't leave a note.
Yes, he could swim. Davis asked citizens to stand by and he turned to the rest of the team in the command center, a dimly lit room on the second floor of the base, the front wall was covered with maps and charts and video screens, which could show everything from a live radar image of Long Island Sound to the local news. Sitting near Mr. Davis was Pete Winters, a Coast Guard veteran who was now working as a civilian search and rescue controller.
That morning he was the operations unit watch stander, which would normally mean he'd be the person running the search and rescue computers. On this morning, though, there was a second person in the operations unit, Jason Roediger, a petty officer, who that week was breaking in or being trained. Roederer was new to Long Island Sound. He had just transferred two days earlier from the Coast Guard station in Baltimore. But as it happened, he was an expert in the Coast Guard search and rescue computer program known as Satraps.
The first calculation the search team ran that morning was a survival simulation, taking into account Aldridge's height five nine and weight 150 pounds, plus the weather and water temperature. It told them that the longest Auldridge could likely stay afloat before hypothermia took over and his muscles gave out was 19 hours. But that, they knew, was a best case. The reality was that very few people survived more than three or four hours in the North Atlantic, especially without a flotation device.
My six twenty eight, the command center, have notified the search mission commander in New Haven, Jonathan Teil, and the search coordinator at the district headquarters in Boston who would have to approve the use of any aircraft in the search. At 630, Davis issued a universal distress call on Channel 16. Pom pom, pom pom pom pom, he intoned the international maritime code for an urgent broadcast. This is United States Coast Guard sector, Long Island Sound.
The Coast Guard has received a report of a man overboard off the fishing vessel Annamarie south of Montauk, about five and 60 miles offshore. All mariners are requested to keep a sharp lookout. Davis kept working the radio, he contacted the Coast Guard station in Montauk with instructions to launch whatever boats were available. Boston approved the use of two helicopters and a search plane, and Davis radioed air station Cape Cod and told them to get airborne as soon as possible.
The closest Coast Guard cutter, an 87 footer called the Sailfish, was in New York Harbor, and Davis directed its crew to start heading east. Roederer, meanwhile, was manning the computer, the Coast Guard has used computer simulations in search and rescue since the mid 1970s, but Satraps has been in use since only 2007. At its heart is a Montecarlo styled simulator that can generate in just a few minutes as many as 10000 points to represent how far and in what direction a search object might have drifted.
Operator's input. A variety of data from the last known location of a lost mariner to the ocean currents and wind direction. Satraps then creates a map of a search area, in this case of the ocean south of Montauk, with colored squares representing each potential location for the search object. Red and orange squares represent the most likely locations. Gray squares represent the least likely. The challenge in Aldrich's case was that the search team had no clear idea when and therefore where he fell overboard, it might have been five minutes after Satinsky went to sleep or it might have been five minutes before he woke up.
That created a potential search area the size of Rhode Island, a sweep of ocean 30 miles wide starting at the Montauk Lighthouse and extending 60 miles south. This was a big problem, in contrast to the sophisticated algorithms of SAR ops, the Coast Guard's basic searching technique is a low tech one. Human beings staring at the ocean, looking for a person's head bobbing in the waves. A 1800 square mile search area would be almost impossible to cover. The team in New Haven based its initial calculations on Kazinsky report that Auldridge was supposed to wake him up at 11 thirty pm that suggested to them that Aldridge fell overboard between nine thirty pm and eleven thirty pm, which would put him somewhere between five and 20 miles south of the Long Island coast.
Roederer input those assumptions, and Satraps came back with an alpha drift, its first scatterplot of search particles that curved in a thick parabola from Montauk Point southward bulging out toward the east with the highest probability locations, the reddest squares on the map clustered about 15 miles offshore. The next step for seraphs was to develop search patterns for each boat and aircraft dividing up the search area into squares and rectangles and assigning each vessel a zone to search and a pattern to use.
A little before 8:00 a.m., New Haven started issuing patterns for the first three assets on the scene the plane, a helicopter and a 47 foot patrol boat from Montauk. Sara can assign all kinds of patterns, depending on the conditions, a track line, a creeping line, an expanding square. But in this case, each search crew was assigned what's called a parallel search, a rectangular shaped pattern with long search tracks preceding roughly north and south and a small jog to the west between each track.
The helicopter was a Sikorsky Jayhawk piloted by two young lieutenants from air station Cape Cod named Mike Diehl and Ray Jamrock flying a Jayhawk in the Coast Guard, like many jobs these days, involves looking at a lot of screens, seven in total spread out in front of deal and cameras in the cockpit showing live maps, radar images and search patterns. When the parallel pattern came in from New Haven, the coordinates fed directly into the helicopters navigation system, meaning that the pilots were able to simply turn on the autopilot and that the helicopter fly the search pattern on its own, not allow deal and cameras to turn their attention away from the screens and toward the water below them.
They were joined in their search by two crew members who sat in the back of the helicopter, a rescue swimmer named Bob Hovey and a flight mechanic named Ethem Hill. Deal and cameras scanned the ocean through their cockpit windows. Hill sat perched in the wide open door on the right side of the helicopter, where he had the clearest view of the water below. Hovey spent most of his time staring at yet another screen, this one displaying the output of an infrared radar camera mounted on the bottom of the helicopter.
The Coast Guard search was off to an excellent start, it was a clear day with good visibility and they had plenty of assets in place. The only problem, of course, was that everyone involved was searching in entirely the wrong place, Auldridge did not fall in the water at ten thirty pm. He fell in at three thirty am, almost thirty miles south of where the Jihae Crew was carefully searching for him. Auldridge was clinging to his boots in the cold water.
Back in New Haven, Pete Winters was having second thoughts about the alpha drift. He borrowed the microphone from Sean Davis and radioed the Annamarie directly. Talk to me, Captain, he said. This is Leonski fishermen. The fishermen helped me reduce this search area. We need to narrow it down so we can find John. Throughout his long career with the Coast Guard, Winters worked on the side as a commercial fisherman on the North Fork of Long Island, like his grandfather and his uncle before him.
This gave him an advantage when the search and rescue operation involved commercial fishermen, especially Long Island fishermen. He spoke their language. So Sanski had also been having second thoughts about the search area after his initial conversation with Davis, he inspected the boat more carefully and he found a few important clues. One hatch cover was upside down on the deck, which every mariner knows is bad luck and upside down hatch cover means your boat is going to wind up upside down to Aldridge.
Must have left it propped up against the side of the boat when he open the hatch and he wouldn't have left it there for long. The pumps were on sluicing cool ocean water through the lobster tanks, which meant that Aldridge had been preparing them for the day's catch. And in the warm summer months, Auldridge and Satinsky would usually wait to start filling the tanks until their boat reached the 40000 curve. The line on maritime charts. That marks where the ocean's depth hits 40 fathoms or 240 feet, which is the point at which the water temperature tends to drop.
The 40000 curve is only about 15 miles north of the animals first trawl. Then Policinski found the broken handle on the ice chest and he realized exactly how Auldridge had fallen overboard. It was still difficult for Solinsky to reconcile this new information with the fact that Auldridge hadn't woken him up at eleven thirty pm as scheduled, but he knew that Auldridge liked to push himself and it didn't seem entirely uncharacteristic that his friend might have just decided to stay up all night alone before working an 18 hour day pulling in entraps.
Together, Satinsky and Winters' came up with a new theory Aldridge had gone overboard somewhere between the 40000 curve, about 25 miles offshore, and the Annamarie first trawl, about 40 miles offshore at a 30 a.m. winters' past this new information to Rodica, who punched it into carhops when the new map emerged, most of the dark red surge particles had migrated south of the 40000 curve and syrup's quickly developed a second more southerly set of search patterns. Still, the search mission commander in New Haven then turned his attention to a more difficult duty informing Aldridge's parents, he called John Aldridge senior who called his wife to the phone, and they sat together listening to Tiel deliver the news of their son's disappearance.
Mrs. Aldridge was hopeful, but Mr. Aldridge felt certain his son was already dead if he hadn't been killed by the propeller's when he fell overboard. He had surely drowned by now. Pretty soon, he thought he would be calling back to say that the helicopters had found John's lifeless body floating in the waves, or that the Coast Guard had decided to suspend the search. The news about Auldridge was also spreading through Monteux fishing community, most of the town's commercial fleet was out on the water that morning.
Some fishermen, Hertz's Nijinsky's anguished first call for help. Others heard Sean Davis pompon broadcast and then word traveled from boat to boat back to the dock and then all over Montauk. The mood in town was grim. Everyone knew the odds, a man overboard that far off the coast would very likely never be found alive. Most of the fishermen who heard the news had the same immediate response, wherever they were, they wanted to help with the search. Richard Etzel, the captain of a Montauk charter boat, had taken a group of customers out at dawn that morning to fish for striped bass when he heard the news over the radio, he took his customers back in, fueled up and headed south at the Montauk Marine Basin.
A mechanic borrowed a customer's center console boat without actually mentioning it to the customer and took off toward the fishing grounds. Jimmy Buffett, the singer who has a summer house in Montauk, had that morning hired Paul Stern, one of the best big tuna fishermen on the East Coast, to take him out. And Buffett's boat, the last mango. When Stern heard about Auldridge, he asked Buffett if they could join the search. Buffett agreed. And the last mango headed south as well.
In total, 21 commercial boats volunteered to look for Aldridge, and as they set out one by one, they flipped their radios over to Channel 16 and alerted the Coast Guard that they were joining the search. Usually when good Samaritans volunteer to take part in a search and rescue mission, the Coast Guard politely declines. It's too complicated. The civilians don't know the search patterns and their searches aren't always reliable. In this case, though, the search area was so vast.
The Coast Guard needed all the help it could get and these were highly motivated volunteers who knew the area well, Tiel didn't want to turn down that kind of help. Still, Shani Davis couldn't possibly coordinate 21 new search patterns on top of all the Coast Guard craft he was already directing. So Winters' hit on an idea they would put.
Anthony Satinsky in charge of the volunteer fishing fleet. So since he said yes to the assignment, of course, he would have done anything to find Aldridge, but organizing 21 fishing boats into a search party would be a daunting task for anyone. And Kazinsky was distraught and disoriented, standing alone in the cramped wheelhouse of the Annamarie in his bare feet and shorts. In contrast to the high tech workstations in New Haven, Satinsky only work surface was a chest high countertop by the boat's front window that was always piled high with unopened mail, newspaper clippings, notebooks, tide charts and rolls of paper towel and electrical tape.
So Satinsky dug through the mess until he found a pen and got on the radio and asked the volunteer searchers to give him their latitude and longitude. To outsiders, Solinsky looked more like a surfer than a fisherman, long sun bleached blond hair that he was constantly pushing back from his eyes, untamed facial hair and a face tanned, increased by years in the sun. On his days off, he would usually smoke some marijuana to calm himself. When he was in charge of the boat's satellite radio, he inevitably chose the 70 station.
He was short and muscular, always humming with energy, talkative, jittery, all of which made for a sharp contrast with most Montauk fishermen who tended to be laconic and reserved. But Solinsky had been on the dock since he was a teenager, and he had earned a certain kind of respect or at least affection among the Montauk fishing fleet. When Satinsky was growing up in Oakdale, his father worked as a tractor trailer driver during the week, delivering lumber up and down Long Island.
But most Friday nights his father would drive to Montauk for the weekend, where he'd work a second job as a deckhand for the Viking fleet. Mom Talk's biggest charter company helping out on Half-Day Party boat charters. When Satinsky turned 12, he started tagging along on his father's weekend trips and in high school, Satinsky spent each summer living on a houseboat moored at the Montauk dock, working full time for Viking as soon as he finished high school. So since he moved to Montauk and started commercial fishing, he married at 20.
And by the time he was 24, he had two daughters and a job on a long line tilefish boat going out for 10 days at a time. Then Satinsky returned from a fishing trip to find his wife had left town with their children, no note, no forwarding address. For 14 months, he searched for his family until he finally found them in Laguna, California. After a long legal battle, Satinsky won custody of both of his daughters and brought them back to Montauk, where he raised them as a single father, doing everything from attending PTA meetings to cooking dinner to making sure they both got into college.
While the girls were young, he worked close to shore on a small lobster boat so that he could be home every night. Auldridge and Satinsky first fish together as boys, riding their bikes to a spot they found under Sunrise Highway and paddling home with their bicycle baskets filled with trout. Once Auldridge joined Satinsky in Montauk. They fished for years on separate boats, but when a beat up lobster boat called the Annamarie came up for sale, they decided to pool their money and buy it together.
It took more than a year of repair work in the boat yard to make the Annamarie seaworthy, and the men were in their late 30s by the time they finally got it out on the water, but it fell to both of them, like the opportunity they had been waiting for. No boss working together, setting their own hours, charting their own course. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Monteux commercial fisheries had been contracting a casualty, depending on whom you asked, of rampant overfishing or excessive government regulation.
Every year there were fewer commercial boats going out. But since and Auldridge made it work. They found a buyer for their lobsters and several who would ship them on the ferries to Fire Island. They sold their crabs to Chinese markets in Queens. They weren't getting rich. Maintaining lobster traps and a boat is an expensive undertaking, but they were doing all right and they were still fishing side by side more than 30 years after they first drop their hooks in the water.
Now, quite literally, Satinsky have lost his best friend. All day, as he stared out at the vast rolling ocean, he felt helpless and guilty if only he'd woken up a few hours earlier, he told himself Auldridge would have taken his shift in the bunk and right now they'd be pulling in lobster traps together. He tried to focus all his energy on directing the commercial boats in north south tracking lines, trying to keep all their locations straight. But none of it felt like enough.
Aldridge had left his driver's license in the wheelhouse, propped up next to the radio. And every once in a while during the search, Satinsky would pick it up and hold it in his hand. He'd stare at it and say out loud, Where are you, John? This podcast is supported by E-Trade trading isn't for everyone, but E-Trade is whether it's saving for a rainy day or your retirement, E-Trade has you covered, they can help you check financial goals off your list.
And with a team of professionals giving you support when you need it, you can be confident that your money is working hard for you. Get more than just trading with ETrade to get started. Visit ETrade Dotcom Slash podcast for more information. E-Trade Securities LLC member FINRA SIPC. The sun rose on John Auldridge at about five thirty on the morning of July 24th. He was called thirsty and tired, he'd been awake for 24 hours, but he was still alive and afloat.
Now that it was light, he gave himself a new assignment, find a boy to most people, the Atlantic Ocean, 40 miles south of Montauk, is just a big, undifferentiated expanse of waves. But Aldridge's knew roughly where he fell overboard a few miles south of the 40000 curve. And he knew that several lobster fishermen had trawls nearby. He knew them by name. In fact, each lobster trawl as a string of 30 to 50 traps spaced 150 feet apart at the bottom of the ocean.
And at the end of each string, a rope extends up from the last trap to the surface, where it is tied to a big round vinyl buoy. If Auldridge could make his way to a buoy, he figured he would be more visible to the searchers and it would be easier to stay afloat. But where to find one? For the first couple of hours of daylight, Auldridge just drifted and looked every 10 seconds or so aswell would carry him up a few feet and when he got to the top of the wave, he'd scan the horizon for a boy.
Finally, at the peak of one wave, he spotted a boy a couple of hundred yards away and began swimming toward it. He took a sock off one foot and stretched it over his right hand to give himself more power. But it was slow going with the boots under his arms, and the current was against him each time he looked up. The boy was a little farther away. Aldridge realized he was exhausting himself and he decided to cut his losses.
He was able to see that the boy had been swimming toward had a flag on top of it, which lobster fishermen attached to the west end of their string's lobster traps are always laid out along an east west line. So Auldridge figured that a mile or so to the east of the unreachable boy, he would find the other end of that string of traps and with it another boy. He started swimming east with the current this time instead of against it, stopping briefly at the top of each swell to see if he could catch side of the eastern boy.
It was painful work, his legs were cramping, he couldn't feel his fingers, the sun rising higher in front of him was blinding. But finally, after more than an hour, he spotted a boy and using the current, he was able to angle himself directly into it. He grabbed the rope and held on. After a minute or two of relief, Aldridge discovered that the boy wasn't quite the deliverance he was hoping for. Lobster boys can be big two feet or more in diameter.
So it was impossible to get his arms around it or right on top of it in any way. His only option was to grab onto the black vinyl eye at the bottom of the boy that the rope was threaded through. The problem was, since the boy was tethered to the traps at the bottom of the ocean, it didn't rise entirely with the waves. Each time a swell rose, much of the boy would submerge, which meant that Auldridge would be dunked underwater as well.
By noon, Auldridge had been in the water for almost nine hours. He was starting to shiver uncontrollably. See, shrimp and sea lice were fastening themselves to his T-shirt and shorts, claiming him as part of the sea storm. Petrels swarmed around, occasionally squawking and diving. Aldridge could see the plane and the helicopters running their patterns, but everyone searching for him seemed to be at least a mile to the east. Clinging to the boy, he realized that the Coast Guard thought he was still drifting, even if they'd figure it out more or less where he fell in their search patterns hadn't taken into account the possibility that he snagged the boy.
Aldrich knew if he wanted to have a chance of being found, he had to get himself farther east. He took out his buck knife and started chopping away at the rope that held the boy in place, when he got it free, he tied it around his wrist and began swimming east again, holding the boy in front of him. As he went, he felt the energy drained from his body, his kicks and strokes were weakening, the sun rose higher and the skin on his face and neck began to blister and burn.
Then at the top of one swell, impossibly. It's part of the Annamarie, less than a quarter mile in front of him, Mike, Malatya was standing on the roof and Auldridge Hollard, with all the strength he could muster, tried to throw the boy up in the air to attract attention. But the boat was too far away. For the second time that day, Auldridge watched as the Annamarie receded into the distance without him. And he began to contemplate the reality he'd kept at bay in his mind for all these hours that no matter what he did, he might not be rescued after all.
He killed himself to keep kicking until eventually he doesn't know how much time went by. He reached another boy. He recognized that it belonged to his friend, Pete Spong, a Rhode Island fisherman who owned a lobster boat called the Brook S.. He untied the rope from his wrist and tied it to the anchor rope underneath the new boy. Now he had two boys connected by a few feet of rope. He swung his leg over the rope and straddled it, facing east, the thick rope rubbed back and forth on his crotch and his legs as the waves rose and fell, chasing them raw.
But at least he wasn't being pulled underwater anymore. He repositioned the boots under his arms and he waited, knowing that this was as far as he could go, that he couldn't survive another swim. If he were still in the water at sundown, he decided he would tie himself to the Brooks's boy. That way at least someone would find his body and his parents would have something to bury. Up in the Jayhawk helicopter deal and Jim Ross and Hovey and Hill had been staring at the water since about seven a.m. and by early afternoon they were growing discouraged.
They had a few false alarms during the day. Sea turtles and Mylar balloons. And with each possible sighting, they followed the same protocol. The person who saw the object would call out Mark, Mark, Mark. One pilot hit a button in the cockpit that would mark the location and they would swing the helicopter back around to check it out. Each time, nothing. The truth of working as a search and rescue helicopter pilot for the Coast Guard is that you don't get to do a lot of actual rescuing.
Deal had been in the Coast Guard for eight years, flying a Jayhawk for three, and he had never once pulled anyone alive from the water. They had all trained for it countless times, plucked dummies out of the ocean, run through checklists and drills until they had the memorized. But the reality was that almost every time a person went overboard in the North Atlantic, he drowned. At two 19 p.m., the helicopter crew finished another parallel search pattern, their third of the day, and radioed Tashaun Davis to request a new one.
They were about an hour from bingo fuel, the moment at which they would have only enough gas to make it home. And once they stopped to refuel, they knew they would be in fatigue status. And Coast Guard regulations would then stipulate that they couldn't take off again until the next day, at which point Auldridge would be well past his 19 hour survivability window. Davis Radio back from New Haven with some unwelcome news, Satraps had crashed, the search had been going on so long and involved so many assets that the system became overloaded.
The screens in the command center simply froze. After much shouting and cursing and pounding on keyboards, Rodolico had to restart the system and now he was typing in all the relevant information again. For the time being, Satraps couldn't produce search patterns. Davis instructed the Jayhawk crew to return to its base on Cape Cod, even if Roederer was able to get Satraps running soon. Bingo fuel was fast approaching and they wouldn't be time for them to do a full search pattern anyway.
They radioed back and argued with Davis they were out there anyway, and they still had a little fuel. Why not give them something to do? The search unit in New Haven finally agreed. And in the command center, Roederer Winters and the command duty officer, a civilian named Mark Averil, huddled around his computer and looked at the latest satraps map. Pointing with his finger on the screen, Averil proposed a simple tract line search. The Jayhawk would head south southeast for about 10 miles straight through the main search area, then turned sharply to the north for another 10 miles, then veer north northwest, which would take the crew straight back to air station Cape Cod.
It wasn't a conventional pattern and it wasn't syrup's generated, but it would have to do. Davis radioed the coordinates to deal and Jim Ross, who fed the manually into their autopilot, and at 246 p.m., the helicopter started moving again. Twelve minutes later, Ray Jamrock called out Mark, Mark, Mark, only now he was much louder and more insistent than he had been all day.
Deal hit the mark button in the cockpit and turn the helicopter around. And there was John Aldridge sitting on the rope between his two boys, clutching his boots and waving frantically. Bob Hovey, the rescue swimmer, clipped his harness onto the helicopters hoist cable and he lowered him into the water. As Hovey swam to Aldridge, Hill lowered a rescue basket and Hovey helped Aldridge climb in. Just as Hill was about to raise him up, Aldridge realized that his boots were floating away and he yelled to Hovey to grab them and put them in the basket with him.
After Aldridge was safely in the helicopter, huddled under blankets, Diehl flipped the radio to Channel 21 and called Satinsky, who was somewhere below them staring out of the water, still looking for Auldridge. Annemarie Deal said, we have your man, he's alive. There's a bar in Montauk, a few steps from the Annamarie slip called the dock, a dark wood paneled place with stuffed animal heads on the wall and signs that say things like no shrimpers, no scalpers, and we've upped our standards up yours.
It is one of the dwindling number of places in town that feels as if it belongs to the people who live and work there year round, if you step inside the dock any given afternoon, you'll very likely find fisherman drinking and talking about ball games and elections, DUIs and divorces. You're very likely to to hear them talking sometimes overtly, sometimes not about the loss of a way of life. The government regulations that make it harder to make a living as a commercial fisherman, the vanishingly small margins for doing the dangerous work they do, the way this place where they've made their home is less recognizable to them with each passing year.
In the weeks after Aldrich's rescue, I talked to several local fishermen on the docks about the search, and not only did they all admit that they cried when they heard the news that Auldridge was safe, but most of them teared up again, despite themselves as they were telling me the story. It was hard to say what exactly was bringing them to tears. But what seems to go mostly unspoken in their lives is the inescapable risk of their jobs and the improbable fact that Auldridge hadn't drowned in the Atlantic somehow underscored that risk for them even more.
He'd kept himself alive in a way that few people could have managed to think and work his way through a situation that for most of us would have been immediately and completely overwhelming and he had willed himself to live. To be a fisherman and to really know the danger of the sea and to think of Auldridge in the middle of the ocean for all those hours refusing to go under. Maybe that was too much to contain. The person who seems least shaken by the experience is John Aldridge.
He spent the night after his rescue in a hospital in Cape Cod being treated for hypothermia, dehydration and exposure. But he has no post-traumatic stress. He told me no nightmares, no flashbacks, no fear when he goes out on the water to work. The Coast Guard pilots and the men in the search unit in New Haven expressed a certain understandable pride when they talk about their work that day. And when Aldridge talks about it, he sounds the same way.
I always felt like I was conditioning myself for that situation, he told me one day in September while we were sitting in the dark. So once you're in it, it's like, all right, I can do that. I did it, I had that sense of accomplishment, I mean, thank God I was saved, yes, thank God they saved me. There is no better entity than the U.S. Coast Guard to come save your ass when you're on the water.
But I felt I did my part. For the people around him, though, things haven't been quite so easy, Aldrich's father told me that he still often wakes up around three a.m. and can't get back to sleep. It's something that you can't kick. He said, it's never out of my mind, never. A few weeks after his son's rescue, John Senior got a tattoo on his arm, a pair of big green fishing boots, and between them the GPS coordinates where his son was found.
Anthony Satinsky still seems shaken as well, for all his happy go lucky charm, his love of life, something changed for him on July 24th. The last time he and I talked about it, we were sitting in the wheelhouse of the Annamarie, which was tied up at the town dock. More than anything, I think about it when I'm out there working, he explained, it was the whole feeling of helplessness. Something was torn out of me, and that part doesn't just show back up.
For Montauk as a community, the ocean remains a blessing and a curse. It is the lifeblood of the town, the essence of its economic livelihood, the reason the tourists keep coming back. But it is also a constant threat. In September, a 24 year old Montauk commercial fisherman named Donald Aversa was killed on a fishing trip on a dragger off the coast of North Carolina. Alverez grew up in Montauk. He went to school with so Sandusky's older daughter and so Sanski and Auldridge attended his wake.
The funeral home was crowded and the mood was somber. When it was over, the dock filled up and the mourners drank late into the night. The next evening, after all, varices funeral, Solinsky and Auldridge met at the Annamarie. They loaded on Batan ice, steered her past the lighthouse and went back to work. This was recorded by autumn. Autumn is an app you can download to listen to lots of audio stories from publishers such as The New York Times.
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