Marine Patrol Officer Benjamin Burnes, who graduated from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in May, has already put his training to good use, saving the life of a man whose canoe capsized while fishing recently on
the York River.
At approximately 4 p.m. last Thursday, Officer Burnes and Sergeant Tom Hale had both just come ashore from routine patrol near the York River. They were crossing the Route 103 bridge, heading toward Route One. At that moment Officer Burnes looked out the window and saw a capsized canoe floating in the swift ebb tide current. “I happened to look downriver at the right moment,” said Burnes.
He then saw a man floating in the current. “He was clinging to a cooler floating downstream of the bridge,” said Officer Burnes. The man, Paul Carr of Massachusetts, had been fishing for striped bass with a friend when their canoe over turned. Carr managed to swim to shore while Officer Burnes boarded a skiff operated by a local lobsterman and retrieved the canoe.
As Sergeant Hale and Officer Burnes helped the man to shore they heard another man yelling for help from under the route 103 bridge. “We weren’t there for more than a couple of minutes when I heard someone yell help, help, help up by the bridge,” said Officer Burnes
The second man, Gerard Centrella also of Massachusetts, had been clinging to the Route 103 bridge piling but was attempting to swim ashore despite the five knot current. “I tried to swim for the shore but I couldn’t make it,” said Centrella. “I was so close to the edge. I couldn’t feel my arms or legs. I was yelling for help but I couldn’t see anyone.”
Although weighted down by his gun belt, boots and ballistic vest, Officer Burnes ran to the bank and moved toward the struggling man without hesitation. “I knew he didn’t have much time in that current so I didn’t really think about it and jumped in,” said Officer Burnes. The water survival training he had received months earlier gave him the confidence to react swiftly. “It prepared me for that situation.”
As he swam toward the man, it became clear to Officer Burnes that Centrella was struggling for his life. “He was saying – I can’t get out of the current. He kept asking me to help him,” said Officer Burnes.
“When I saw him,” said Centrella,” I thought – I’m not going to die in this river.”
“I reached out my hand to him and told him to keep his head above water,” said Officer Burnes. “I grabbed his hand and swam on my back toward shore. He keeled over when he got to shore. He was exhausted from fighting that current.”
Once on-shore, Centrella expressed gratitude to the young Marine Patrol Officer who had saved his life. “I said you saved my life. I told him I’m never going to forget your face. I’ll forever be grateful.”
Both victims were checked by local EMS personnel and were not taken to a hospital.
“Officer Burnes showed extraordinary instinct and skill in performing this daring rescue,” said Sergeant Hale. “We teach the skills to handle your self in the water, but the instinct to act without hesitation came naturally to this young Officer and will serve him well throughout his career.”
Three weeks into his new job and Officer Burnes is pleased he chose to become a Marine Patrol Officer. “I think its great. I couldn’t imagine having a career that started out like this. Being able to help people is very rewarding. If this is what the first three weeks is like, I look forward to the next 25 years.”