'Really Scary': 29 Rescued After Boats Capsize In Westport: UPDATE

WESTPORT, CT — Twenty-nine people, 27 of whom are between the ages of 14 and 18, were rescued from 44-degree water late Wednesday afternoon, when their rowing sculls and motorboat capsized off the Westport shore, according to authorities.

The rowers are from the Saugatuck Rowing Club, which had three 60-foot, nine-person sculls in the water, in addition to a coach’s motorboat.

According to authorities, the rescue, chaotic at times, took roughly 40 minutes. Though initial reports said there were no injuries among the 29 people pulled from the water, two of the young rowers were taken to Norwalk Hospital, suffering from hypothermia.

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“It was really cold,” said Davis Evans, a Weston High School junior, who is one of the rowers rescued. “I couldn’t really talk. When we got back to the beach, we could barely walk.

“I tried to do a good job of keeping my cool, but it was really scary. I’m still kind of shaken up, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. But out on the water, I tried not to freak out.”

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The rowers got into trouble when the weather turned on Wednesday afternoon, and the wind picked up. Before the change in the weather, the rowers had ventured out to the waters near Cockenoe Island, where some were rescued.

Some managed to swim to shore, others came in by boat, and some were still in the water as emergency vessels arrived. Beside the water being 44 degrees, the air temperature was 40 degrees offshore.

“There were two to three-feet swells that were crashing into the boats,” Evans said. “We weren’t really prepared for it, because it was glass water before that, really clean. But then it got windy, and the waves started crashing into our boats, and they began filling up with water.”

The sculls were the first to capsize, and the coach’s motorboat then capsized after some of the rowers tried to hang onto it.

Two adult coaches were among the 29 people rescued. According to Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas, in addition to Westport police and fire boats, boats from the Fairfield and Stamford Marine divisions; the U.S. Coast Guard; Norwalk police and fire boats; the Noroton Fire Boat; and a second coach’s boat from the rowing club were also involved in the rescue.

“This was truly a team effort,” said Koskinas, during a news conference Wednesday night. “We are grateful for our surrounding agencies who assisted us with this incident, and remind our communities that when a large scale event like this happens, we all show up to help.”

Koskinas said this was the largest water rescue in Westport’s history, and the investigation into what happened is continuing.

“This was considered a mass casualty incident, with unknown outcomes at the time. We kept our entire crews out on the water for another hour, even though we thought we had all 29 people accounted for, just in case someone came back and said it was 30 people.”

He continued, “It was a managed chaotic scene. There was a lot of emotion, it’s an open area, which is difficult to manage, with parents, all the first responders, the media.”

Westport First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker said that she is thankful that the outcome was not worse.

“We just want to say that we hope that all the families, all the kids, all the athletes are reunited and feeling safe, and are feeling well taken care of,” Tooker said during the news conference. “That’s the most important thing. I also want to say thank you to the amazing leadership team that are standing here behind me. We are so blessed with a such a professional group of first responders here in Westport. Things could have gone very differently tonight, but they didn’t, because we have an excellent, excellent police department, fire department and EMS department here in Westport.”

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