SANDY HOOK – “He did the right thing, he was knowledgeable and I think he knew we’d be searching at first light so he splashed and made himself known.”
That was how PO 3 John Sousa, the coxswain in charge of CG47, the Coast Guard vessel that scooped 19-year old Dylan Gowan out of the Atlantic Ocean Wednes day morning last week, downplayed the heroic role and overnight hours the Coast Guard had spent in their successful search and rescue of Gowan.
Gowan’s wave runner took on water as he was returning from helping a friend in Brooklyn that evening.
Sousa, who hails from Connecticut and has been stationed at Coast Guard Sandy Hook for two years, said the station received the first call for a missing man at 9:48 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11, when the Highlands Police Department, who themselves had been alerted by Gowan’s mother, Kerry, notified Sector NY. The Coast Guard immediately dispatched its 25-foot boat with a reserve group to undertake an initial search. The boat was under way at the time undergoing training in the area and immediately began their search pattern.
That exercise continued until 1:59 Wednesday morning, Sousa continued, when CG 47, the larger boat at Sandy Hook, with its crew of Sousa, engineer Petty Officer third class Joshua Kitson of Michigan, and Seamen Nahm Canfield of Michigan and Joseph Avvenire of New York continued the search for the rest of the night.
The Coast Guardmen’s search pattern was in the ocean, 5 to 10 miles off shore, with the military using night vision goggles and following their normal search and rescue crisscross pattern. Unsuccessful for the next four hours, the boat and its crew began to head back towards their station, using the highly trafficked channel route closest to the point of Sandy Hook, between “the candlesticks,” the two poles with lights, off the tip of the hook where the bay meets the ocean.
Coast Guard routine is to intensify the search at first light, just before dawn when activity in the water is more readily spotted. One of the crewmembers saw significant splashing around the buoy, giving the appearance of a sea mammal playing, and the boat headed to the site, where they found Gowan splashing vigor- ously and clinging to the buoy. Once they got him aboard the boat, with Gowan mixing his cries of joy with thanks, the Coast Guard returned to Sandy Hook, where the National Park Service personnel administered immediate aid. The Highlands First Aid Squad then transported Gowan to Riverview Medical Center for treatment and an overnight stay for observation.
“He was smart enough to know what to do,” Sousa said, “and he had done all the right things. He had notified someone where he was and his approximate time of returning. When he tried to swim, he knew wet clothes would hold him back, and while we never advocate taking off a life vest, he felt it was the best thing for him to do at that time. He knew we would be intensifying the search at first light and he splashed intensely to get our attention.
” Gowan, a strong swimmer who learned from his mother as a toddler how to navigate in the water, at first thought he could swim to shore, once the craft took on water. So he shed his lifejacket and water- soaked clothes some time during the night to make swimming easier, but when he realized the tide and currents were too strong where the ocean met the bay-currents Sousa described as “death-defying” – he clung to the lighted buoy, and attempted to use the light to attract attention during the night.
News of Gowan’s rescue was received with whoops of joy and prayers of thanks from the many who had gathered at Snug Harbor Beach holding a vigil throughout the night while the Coast Guard boats and helicopter, New Jersey State Police Marine Division, volunteer squad members from Highlands and Sea Bright and friends with on-the-water experience conducted the search. It was particularly gratifying since all knew that there had been two drownings off Sandy Hook earlier in the month and many feared the worst for Gowan.
Still, there were electrifying moments both during and after the search. While the Gowans waited on the beach, Dylan’s sister, Carly, 16, looked to the sky and pointed out two shooting stars. At her mom’s suggestion, she said a couple of prayers for Dylan because of the stars. After his rescue, one of the first stories Gowan told about his night at sea was when he saw two shooting stars and said a prayer to both of them. The annual Perseid meteor shower peaked the night of Aug. 11, and with a new moon, there were perfect conditions for watching shooting stars. Gowan said, “I prayed so much all night long, I prayed to anybody who would listen, but I especially prayed when I saw those shooting stars.”
And Kerry and Jamey Gowan also noted that within the next couple of days, two different friends, in two different locales on the water, spotted the drifting watercraft that had been released from the buoy for safety reasons. The buoy has since been recovered by its owner in Brooklyn.
Dylan’s grandmother, Roberta McEntee, is a resident at Care One Care Center in Middletown, where Dylan had worked up until a few months ago. The McEntees were New York residents who summered in Highlands for many years before moving here full time years ago. While the senior McEntee was shielded from TV accounts of her grandson’s escapades, Kerry said she told her the story of his night on the water and his rescue when she visited her mother Saturday.
Still recovering from all the emotions of the recent days, Kerry said she had to laugh when her mother’s retort to her was “you did the same thing to me when you were 15.”
Reluctantly, Kerry said she had to agree, and recalled when she and some of her friends swam across the Shrewsbury River to spend the night on Plum Island. Kerry said while her mother was angry when she found out about her night under the stars, “my mother taught me then the lesson I’ve taught my kids – and which apparently helped save Dylan – I can’t help you if I don’t know where you are.”
By Muriel J. Smith
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