Emergency Crews that Responded to Flipped Boat Lauded for Efforts

At a conference held Wednesday morning, the divers who saved four lives Sunday night were thanked for their bravery and efforts.

Timing is everything. At anytime prior to Wednesday morning's press conference at the Czesciks Marina on Harbor Drive, where the dive team was lauded for their efforts in rescuing four boaters , it would have felt inappropriate.

A fifth member of the boat, , 30-year-old New Rochelle firefighter, died that night, dive teams working effortlessly around the clock were unable to locate him in the pitch-black, wreckage-littered waters.

Morris' death is a dark mar on a night where, without the collaborative efforts of marine units and dive teams throughout the incident, .

"My condolences go out to the Morris family for their horrible loss," Sgt. Pete Wolff, Commander of the Stamford Police Department's Harbor Unit said. "But we definitely did everything we could. It was a miraculous situation. It could have easily been a triple fatal as opposed to a single fatal."

Many city officials and department heads were on hand to congratulate the team on a job well done. Stamford Public Safety, Health & Welfare Director Thaddeus Jankowski echoed Wolff's sentiment. Without their bravery in the face of the unknown, it could have been sadder.

"The divers displayed courage and professionalism maneuvering through the dark, murky waters and wreckage to enter the confined space in order to save the trapped occupants," Jankowski said. "They put their own lives at risk. Had it not been for their actions, the trapped victims would have surely perished. I commend them for their efforts and all responders' [efforts] that night."

An Oyster Creek boat arrived first to pull Kristina Caldararo, 24, and Drew Morris, 29, the victim's brother, from the water. On hand Wednesday were the three divers who faced what came next that night—freeing the two boaters . 

Stamford firefighters Bill O'Connell and Joe Maida, in their 10th and 12th years with the department respectively, and Darien Marine Unit Officer Dan Ehret, with his department for 8 years, had to scramble to free the trapped boaters, identified as Dinorah Viaira, 25, and Anthony Basile, 29.

They faced numerous hurdles in their rescue efforts, including a pitch black setting filled with floating debris and broken glass, and a ceiling in the form of an upside-down boat to an entry portal to the cabin on 18 inches wide. Maida was the first into the cabin where the pair was trapped in an air bubble. He found their first extra oxygen tank wouldn't fit into the cabin, so he had to find a smaller "pony bottle."

He attempted to remove Viaira from the cabin first, but she became separated from the diver and retreated back into the air bubble.

"Our trained and experienced divers had both gotten entangled at one time or another during this operation," Deputy Chief Trevor Roach said. "So for a civilian swimming without a tank on, it must have been scary as hell."

Three more attempts to get the girl out of the cabin failed before she became overwhelmed and O'Connell, now focusing on the passengers while Maida guarded a small opening, focused on getting Basile out. Once he was free, Viaira was yelling "No," repeatedly. She didn't want to go back in the water. When O'Connell took his mask off to talk to her, he became dizzy and realized the oxygen in her little air bubble was running low.

"He then made the tough decision: No more coaxing," Roach said. "He taught her how to use an air bottle quickly, yanked her by the leg and pulled her out through the debris and up to the surface."

"It seemed like an eternity," O'Connell added. "[It took] 20 minutes, probably? The hull itself was inverted, upside down. The water was up to my neck in the cabin, so we had to get them down, under that, through the hatchway, through the debris, out to the steering column and away from the boat in water that was 12-feet deep. The swim took less than a minute. I pulled her hard and pushed her to get her up and break the water, basically."

Maida said the shock of facing a situation no one had ever thought of or drew up plans for threw them off a bit.

"Mentally, we weren't prepared," he said. "Basically, we're not really prepared for this type of dive, our training is down in the mud. We usually do bottom sweeps and recovery type dives so this was a challenge before we even left the dock."

"Initially I don't think I knew what I was getting into," O'Connell added.

The team brushed off their efforts as heroic, stating simply, "We were only doing our job," but Roach said he couldn't be prouder of their determination in action.

"I'm absolutely so proud of them," the Deputy Chief said. "This is 23 years of effort building this diving team. And the whole community is great. It just happened to be these guys in the water. We have another 30 I would've equally trusted. We have maybe 8-to-10 calls a year. I wouldn't say this was our most dangerous, but it presented the newest, most difficult challenges we've faced."

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will be . They will be the ones who ultimately make any determinations regarding toxicology reports. Authorities estimated the case could take roughly three months to complete.


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