MASTIC BEACH, N.Y. (PIX11) — Police on Long Island rescued a man desperately clinging onto a capsized kayak while struggling from hypothermia on Sunday.
Nicholas Shakalis, a 34-year-old Plainview resident, was with his cousin and a friend hunting that morning when the accident happened. He used a kayak to retrieve a duck in the water they had shot. All of a sudden, the kayak flipped over in Narrow Bay off of Mastic Beach.
“It happened so fast. It must’ve been a gust of wind that took me because it was the blink of an eye and I’m in the water,” Shakalis said.
Once in the water, Shakalis flipped the kayak over twice but couldn’t get back in. Exhausted, he took his life preserver off and clung to the kayak, using it as a flotation device. Stuck in frigid waters for about 40 minutes, he knew time was running out.
“I wasn’t really moving anywhere and that’s when I knew you have to just hold on for dear life,” Shakalis said. “You’re not getting out of this unless somebody comes.”
Shakalis’ friend and cousin had called 911 from shore around 8:45 a.m. A Suffolk County police helicopter responded with a rescue team.
“When I heard the helicopter above, it was like a guardian angel landed,” Shakalis said.
Police officer Jonathan Jensen, who is a rescue swimmer with the police department’s Emergency Services Section, jumped into the water and brought Shakalis to safety at nearby Pattersquash Island.
“It was a little scary seeing the condition that he was in,” Jensen said. “He was verbal. He could tell me what his name was, how old he was. But he didn’t really have use of his limbs anymore. He was barely holding onto the kayak. At that point, I knew that it was important to get him out of the water and get him warm as quickly as possible.”
Shakalis was transported to a hospital to be treated for hypothermia and made a full recovery, authorities said.
“I can’t thank the first responders enough. They saved my life because I don’t think I had much time left,” Shakalis said. “I couldn’t tell you how good it feels to be alive today. When I saw the sunrise today, that’s an image I’m not going to forget.”
Command Pilot Sgt. John Vahey, Tactical Flight Officer Police Officer Victor Federico and Stony Brook University Hospital Flight Paramedic Erin Carey were part of the team that rescued Shakalis. Members of the Center Moriches Fire Department also assisted Jensen in bringing Shakalis to shore.