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Teen rowers capsize in frigid waters during practice, Connecticut rescuers say

Miami Herald
It started off as a normal crew practice.

Twenty-eight teen rowers launched three sculls from the Saugatuck Rowing Club after school March 20, according to the Westport Police Department’s Facebook post. Their coaches were in a chase boat not far away.

As the team neared Cockeone Island near Westport, Connecticut, the weather started to change. Rowers tried to make their way back to shore, but even with nine rowers per boat, the swells were too much, police said.

They struggled against the current. Frigid water started to get inside the boats.

Suddenly, it was one swell too many. Two of the sculls flipped, throwing 18 teens into the water, police said.

According to the Westport Police Department’s Facebook post, at the time of the incident, the water in the Long Island Sound was 44 degrees, with the air even colder.

Some of the rowers began to swim. Others stayed near the boats that were still afloat. Some tried to hold onto the chase boat, causing that boat to sink as well, CBS New York reported.

First responders received the report a little after 5 p.m. and began their rush to Compo Beach nearby. But in water that cold, time is of the essence.

According to Scientific American, “a person can survive in 41-degree F (5-degree C) water for 10, 15 or 20 minutes before the muscles get weak, you lose coordination and strength, which happens because the blood moves away from the extremities and toward the center, or core, of the body.”

“Our fingers and toes were completely numb,” Finn Nestor, a member of the rowing team, told CBS New York. Nestor spent over 40 minutes in the water that night, a dangerous amount of time to be immersed in the icy sound.

Once responders arrived at Compo Beach, they “found a chaotic scene of youths swimming to shore, arriving by boat, and some still in the water near Cockenoe Island,” police said.

They immediately began providing care to the teens on shore and mobilizing for the recovery of people still in the water.

Two people were taken to the local hospital to be treated for hypothermia.

The police are grateful to report no deaths in the rowing disaster.

“This was truly a team effort,” the police chief said in the Facebook post. “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.”

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