SAN NICOLAS ISLAND, Calif. -- Naval Facilities Engineering Command Engineering Service Center (NAVFAC ESC) Seabee divers rescued a capsized boater who had been drifting in the ocean for five hours Friday, Sept. 14.
Local boater Ivan Jureczky, 60, clung to the keel and straddled the hull of his 15-foot capsized sailboat Friday afternoon, praying for rescue and losing hope 10 miles offshore between Point Mugu and San Nicolas Island. Five hours passed as he drifted further out to sea, fighting waves, hypothermia and exhaustion.
Jureczky's fate was almost left to ocean currents, but as the sun sank lower and lower on the horizon and visibility waned, a team of Seabee divers were returning from an annual maintenance mission just off the island aboard the Diane G, a Naval Air Systems Command contract vessel based out of Port Hueneme.
Trevor Rowe, captain of the Diane G, spotted what he thought was an odd looking piece of debris floating 1,000 yards off the ship's bow. He diverted course for inspection and the crew and passengers sprang into action 200 yards from the debris when they realized it was a capsized boater.
Three of the NAVFAC ESC Seabee divers launched their 19-foot inflatable boat from the Diane G and rescued Jureczky.
Once aboard, the Seabee divers, who are trained in first aid, immediately treated Jureczky for mild hypothermia.
"It is my professional opinion that if the [captain] had not noticed the overturned vessel, Mr. Jureczky would have not survived the night," said Senior Chief Eric M. Eaton, NAVFAC ESC Dive Locker command master diver. "He had no operable radio, no distress equipment or lights and was dressed in jeans and a light jacket. He had overturned near Channel Islands Harbor and drifted for what he estimated was five hours. He was picked up at dusk in Sea State 2 and there were no civilian boats operating in the immediate area and he was far outside the regular sea lanes. He was not expected home until later in the evening and so was not even noticed as missing yet."
The average water temperature where Jureczky was rescued is 62 degrees, according Lt. Sean Arumae, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach. The air temperature on Friday was about 80 degrees, but dropped to 65 after sunset. In those conditions, according to the Coast Guard's probability and serviceability decision aide, a person matching Jureczky's body type would suffer loss of functionality due to hypothermia after approximately nine hours, and suffer cardiac arrest after 12-14 hours.
"Had those Seabee divers not come upon him, we would have been looking for a person in the water, not a drifting vessel," Arumae explained.
Jureczky was overcome with gratitude to the Seabee divers and crew of the Diane G following his rescue.
"My family and I are so grateful to you for very likely saving my life," said Jureczky. "Your unparalleled professionalism and positive attitude saved the day for many people."
The Seabee divers assigned to the NAVFAC ESC Dive Locker are specialized Navy divers. Their specialization includes providing small boat and diving operations, planning and support for projects and tests, as well as underwater construction equipment procurement support and acceptance testing.
Their mission offshore of San Nicolas Island Friday was to replace the island's fuel hose and inspect its moorings. In order for the island to receive fuel, large barges must connect to the hoses that are a 1/4 mile offshore and pump the fuel to the supply tanks for the island.
The divers disconnect the hose from the riser (underwater connecting point) and a crane pulls the hose up on the barge and sends down a new hose for the divers to connect. They also take measurements and do minor repairs on the four buoys around the hose for barges to moor to when they offload fuel.