New York duck hunter Nick Shakalis is lucky to be alive after his kayak overturned, plunging him into the frigid waters off Mastic Beach.
While hunting on his kayak in a bay near Mastic Beach, Shakalis successfully brought down a bird. Triumphantly paddled over to retrieve his prize, the hunter leaned over the edge of his kayak toward the icy water below. As his kayak tipped to the side, a blast of wind hit the side of the boat, capsizing it completely and knocking Shakalis into the 40-degree bay.
“Before you know it, I was in the water,” he told Fox 5. “I was coming back in – nice, slow, and smooth. Out of the blue, just slipped in. I think it was a strong wind gust.”
His cousin and friend witnessed the alarming incident from the shore and immediately called the police for help. With the icy water seeping into his bones, however, Shakalis was already short on time. In 40-degree water, the effects of hypothermia set in within just 7 minutes. “For a moment, I thought I was going to die,” Shakalis said. “I just held on for dear life.”
Rescue crews rushed to the scene in a helicopter, arriving above the frozen duck hunter within minutes. Despite their rapid response, however, Nick Shakalis was already terrifyingly close to death.
After 40 minutes in the deadly water, police helped the 34-year-old duck hunter the quarter-mile back to shore, where they flew him to a nearby hospital for treatment. “It was a little scary seeing the condition that he was in,” said Officer Jonathan Jensen with the Suffolk County Police Department. “He was barely holding on to the kayak.”
First Responders Recall Horrifying Mission Saving Frozen Duck Hunter
Because Shakalis had spent so much time in the freezing water, the duck hunter wasn’t the only one to fear for his life. Following the rescue, many first responders recalled the incident as one that nearly cost the outdoorsman his life.
“With water temperature like this, a person is unable to help themself after about within 20 minutes in the water. “We were getting closer to the critical time period,” said Command Pilot Sgt. John Vahey.
“He wasn’t that alert, he wasn’t that responsive,” agreed flight paramedic Erin Cary. “It was really a matter of minutes for him to be ok.”
For Jonathan Jensen, the rescue swimmer who helped Shakalis back to shore, the only thing that gave him hope was that the duck hunter was still able to speak. “The one thing he did say when I was in the water which struck me – he said ‘help me,'” Jensen said. “I sandwiched myself between him and the kayak and we made our way to the Island.”
It was an incredibly close call, but Shakalis made a full recovery in the hospital, a feat he credits to the paramedics at Suffolk County Police Department. “I definitely consider myself lucky,” Shakalis said, adding he’s “forever grateful” for the first responders. “I’ve never felt more alive.”