“We’re in the water, we’re filling up, we’re gonna have to bail,” was the desperate 9-1-1 call that came in to Westchester County Police after a plane had ditched in the icy Hudson River.
43 year old Christopher Smidt of Colonia, NJ was uttering the desperate words. And the reply from the emergency operator is not what any passenger wants to hear. “Is it possible for you to get out?” “We can get out if we have to,” said Smidt calmly. Then the panic sets in as he yells to his fellow passenger, “Get out, get out, get out, get out!”
For 25 minutes, Smidt and 39 year old Deniese DePriester, a licensed flight instructor from New Windsor, sat in the frigid waters hoping for a rescue. And then it came.
Det. Dan Higgins with the Yonkers Police Department was off duty, having just returned from a fishing trip with his 12 year old son Danny. They were at a nearby marina to retrieve their car after car-pooling. A retired officer with them got the call. “I’m telling you it just worked out where the stars aligned just right,” was the only was Higgins could describe it.
The two friends called another who has the sole steel hulled boat on the Hudson in Yonkers, picked up two officers from the Emergency Services Unit and plucked the pair from the river within 25 minutes, sending them for treatment at Jacobi Hospital, where they are both listed in stable condition.
“We’re going in the water. It’s really cold. I can’t make it to shore,” Smidt told the 9-1-1 operator.
Higgins’ 12 year old son Danny was part of the rescue. “I’m just happy they were alive.”
Smidt’s call for help was desperate. “The water’s freezing,” he pleads as he opens the door to the Piper Cherokee and lets the frigid water rush in. “I understand,” replies the emergency operator, “but you need to get out so you’re not trapped.”
“I’m not gonna make it to shore,” says Smidt.
Det. Dan Higgins, who was piloting the recuse boat, the Trenton, was blunt. “In this water, the body shuts down, hypothermia sets in.” The next closest boat was an NYPD Marine Unit, which arrived on the scene 20 minutes after the pair had been loaded into an ambulance and taken to Jacobi Medical Center, where they are now listed in stable condition.
Det. Higgins had been up river, having just returned from an ice fishing trip. His 30 years of marine experience kicked in as he piloted the boat in the dark icy waters, eventually finding the pair in orange life jackets. Only the Trenton was on the water. With its steel hull it can break several inches of ice which routinely clog this river in winter.
“They weren’t saying much, they were in shock,” said Higgins of the pair that had been pulled aboard. His son sat with the two and tried to comfort them. “The lady’s mumbling something like, ‘I’m cold, I’m numb.'”