Three years ago, on Sept. 15, 2016 to be exact, Winthrop resident Ondrej Bucek was kayaking in the waters off Winthrop when something went wrong. The 46-year-old Winthrop resident was in his kayak when a big wave hit the side of the kayak, causing it to flip over. Bucek, who is originally from the Czech Republic, was sent reeling in to the water alone, hundreds of yards from shore with sunset approaching.
“I tried to make a turn and suddenly a big wave came out of nowhere and hit me on the side of my kayak,” recalled Bucek. “I hadn’t checked the weather and the wind kicked up a bit and the waters were choppy. I had been out in the water on my kayak for several hours (3:30 to 7 p.m.).”
Then-Winthrop Deputy Harbormaster Dennis DeCarney received notification from then-Winthrop Harbormaster Joe Montalto about the developing incident. And if not for the heroic efforts and the experience of DeCarney, who ultimately pulled a weakened and incoherent Bucek in to his boat during a dramatic rescue, the incident likely would have ended in tragedy.
“He [DeCarney] is my angel,” stated Bucek in an interview Sunday.
DeCarney recalled the incident in which the teamwork of the Town Harbormaster’s Office, the U.S. Coast Guard (Boston Sector), Winthrop Fire and EMS, Winthrop Police and the Massachusetts General Hospital helped save Bucek’s life.
“It was late in the day and there were a few people on Yirrell Beach,” said DeCarney. “A man was looking out in to the water and noticed Ondrej [Bucek] was having difficulty getting back in to his kayak. Unfortunately, the man who witnessed the incident had his attention diverted to his family. Forty-five minutes later the man returned and noticed that Ondrej was not visible from the beach. He made a call to the harbormaster, who at that time was Joe Montalto.”
The harbormaster notified DeCarney, who immediately drove to the beach and used his binoculars “to look out and scan the waters and see if there were any kayakers.”
“I didn’t see any kayakers or anyone floating around in the water,” said DeCarney. “But for some reason in my head I had a feeling that there could be something going on.”
DeCarney contacted Montalto and the decision was made to deploy a boat for a search and rescue operation. DeCarney also notified the U.S. Coast Guard that “we had a possible victim in the water, a kayaker in distress off of Yirrell Beach.”
DeCarney fled to the scene in one boat while Joe Montalto and Mark Sorrentino were deployed in a second boat.
“As I went to the area [of the last sighting of the kayaker], I determined that due to the amount of time that had lapsed and the condition of the currents and the tide, he [Bucek] was going to be off-shore a distance,” said DeCarney. “I lined up at the Five Sisters in my boat and traveled northeast scanning the water. Twenty to 25 minutes in to the search, my partner and I happened to be staring to the right and we saw Ondrej’s head bobbing.”
DeCarney called out to Bucek, but there was no response. DeCarney moved the boat closer to Bucek and tossed out a life ring, but Bucek was unable to grab on to it.
“I got the boat up next to him, pulled on the side door, grabbed on to him and pulled him in to the boat,” said DeCarney. “I checked his vitals. He had a weak pulse. Both of his arms and legs were constricted. I wrapped him in space blankets. I called over to the other boat. Mark [Sorrentino] hopped on to our boat and he and my partner began to tend to him medically.”
DeCarney transported Bucek back to the Winthrop Town Pier where Winthrop Fire, Winthrop EMS, and Winthrop Police [whom DeCarney had notified] were on scene. The Winthrop contingent worked on Bucek for 20 minutes in the parking lot before he was transported by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.
Bucek spent five days in the hospital before being released.
There is little doubt that the intuition and quick action of DeCarney saved Bucek’s life. Bucek had been in the water for more than an hour before DeCarney pulled him from the water.
In fact, DeCarney was told by paramedics “that within the next five minutes or so, there would have been a body.”
Bucek remains eternally grateful to DeCarney. “I’m very thankful to Dennis and everyone who saved my life,” said Bucek, who also credited the physicians at MGH for their medical care.
Looking back at the successful rescue, DeCarney said, “Because of the choppy water and the fact that he was wearing a black life jacket, it was just amazing that going by, we were looking in his direction. If we were looking to the left for a foot or two, we would have gone right by him.”
Added DeCarney, “Ondrej had a will to survive. There is a reason why he is here today.”
It is unknown why DeCarney has not been officially commended for his heroic rescue.
But Winthrop Harbormaster Larry Powers said this week, “I think it’s important that people recognize what my officers do here. In this situation, we were very fortunate that it was Dennis on that boat. Dennis is a very experienced public safety officer, a very experienced boater and harbormaster. And Dennis’ qualifications and knowledge made a big difference in a situation like this. It’s certainly time that Dennis is recognized for his life-saving effort.”