Rookie Lifeguards Rescue Swimmers From Three Mile Harbor Inlet

Rookie lifeguards Julie Erickson, Hannah Medler and Manny Vilar helped helped save four people who were swept into the channel to Three Mile Harbor last week. Michael Wright

Three first-year East Hampton Town lifeguards dashed into action earlier this month when three women were sucked by the current into the inlet to Three Mile Harbor.

East Hampton Town Lifeguards Chief John Ryan Jr., said this week that the quick thinking and aplomb with which the three young guards — Hanna Medler, 16, Julia Erickson, 16, and Manny Vilar, 17 — handled the situation was remarkable.

“I can’t say enough about these three, it was really impressive how they handled themselves,” Mr. Ryan said on Sunday morning at Maidstone, where the three guards were again manning the lifeguard stand together. “We come down and talk to the guards in the morning; we talk about the wind and what to watch out for, and how much they listen, we don’t know. Then it’s 10:35 and I get a call — we need Jet Ski assistance, guards in the water — and I was like, holy smokes. I could hear the urgency in her voice.”

The voice he was hearing was that of Ms. Medler, who will be a junior at East Hampton High School this year and was directing the rescue from atop the lifeguard chair, calling for additional help on a portable VHF radio.

The trio of guards had just started their first shift of the day on a breezy but warm August Sunday. The beach was already getting busy when the guards took their positions just after 10 a.m. There were several people swimming in the bay. Three of them, several hundred feet to her left, were middle aged women who had strolled into the water and were drifting and chatting in the warm bay water.

“They were out between the end of the jetty and the [pilings] and I saw all three of them start swimming frantically away from the jetty,” Ms. Medler recalled. “Then a wave came, and they just got sucked in. That’s when I said, ‘Go!’”

The East Hampton Town Lifeguards training dictates that in the event of a needed rescue, the lifeguard in the chair remains there, so that they never take their eyes off the person or people in distress and can direct the “down guards” and any needed backup.

As the three ladies were captured by the strong incoming current and pulled around the tip of the jetty into the heavily trafficked boating channel, Ms. Medler mobilized her rescuers.

Mr. Vilar, a senior at EHHS this year, grabbed a “torp” — the familiar torpedo shaped orange plastic float that lifeguards typically trail behind them as they dash to a rescue — and Ms. Erickson, a rising EHHS junior, picked up the 12-foot-long yellow surfboard that leaned against the lifeguard chair and scampered for the jetty a few hundred feet away.

By the time they reached the inlet, a man who was acquainted with the women had jumped into the inlet in an effort to provide assistance but had become distressed himself.

The group had also become separated. One of the women had managed to get out of the current into gentler water, while the other two and the man who had jumped in to help were being swept into the channel.

Mr. Vilar headed to the lone woman and helped her to shore, while Ms. Erickson dove into the inlet on the paddle board and stroked her way to the other three.

“They were like ‘Help! Help!’ and they grabbed onto the board and I just had them hold on because I couldn’t’ get them all up on it,” Ms. Erickson said. “Then this police boat came out of nowhere.”

As Mr. Ryan and another lifeguard arrived at the scene with the Jet Ski he carries on the back of his pickup, a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation boat was dropping the three swimmers off on the beach inside the inlet, generally no worse for the wear and effusively grateful to the lifeguards.

“They all did everything exactly like they should have — they used everything they had available to them and they handled it very well,” Mr. Ryan said of what he said was the first “real rescue” at Maidstone Park in his long memory of lifesaving in East Hampton. “It’s common for young guards to miss their first rescue, even when they are watching someone get into trouble, because they are unsure of themselves and don’t react because they’re worried they’ll look foolish if they get it wrong. Hanna was concerned she shouldn’t have called me out, I said ‘Are you kidding? Always.’ Great job by these kids, all of them.”

As she dropped her daughter off for what was certain to be a more mundane Sunday shift,

Ms. Erickson’s mother, Trisha, celebrated the still lingering excitement of the heroism of her daughter and her colleagues.

“I told her,” she beamed. “There is your college essay.”