BOZMAN — Almost done oystering for the day, Phil Jewell was nearly ready to head back in to dock on Thursday when the tong puller lagged to the floor of his boat popped out and caused him to fall back and overboard into the icy water. “I was in the water before I even knew it,” Jewell said of the freak accident.
The fact that Jewell, a longtime waterman, was able to speak of the incident just 24 hours later though, is nothing short of a miracle. With temps in the Chesapeake Bay hovering in the mid-30s, even a few minutes in the water puts an individual at extreme risk.
His helper on the boat tried to pull him back in, Jewell said, but with his heavy weather gear on and waterlogged his weight was nearly doubled. “I told him to toss me the life ring and call in a mayday,” Jewell said.
What happened next was a chain of events that put a lot of people in the right place at the right time — had they not been, the outcome could have been drastically different.
Waterman Russ Dwyer was just walking back into his house when he heard his new radio crackle with the call for help. “They hadn’t switched over to an emergency channel yet,” Dwyer said, “it was really a miracle I heard him. Makes you think you better go to church on Sunday.”
Dwyer quickly called another waterman he thought was closer to the landing in Neavitt, Larry Jones, and then also dialed 9-1-1. Jones than got a hold of Norman and Johnny Gowe, more fellow watermen. Jones said he too had just gotten back home and thought at first it might have been the Gowe’s boat that was in distress. Johnny Gowe and his father had returned in from the water, but were still close by and able to quickly launch back out and respond to help Jewell.
Jewell was really very lucky, Jones said.
Gowe was able to help drag Jewell aboard the boat, but Jewell had by then been in the water almost 30 minutes. “I couldn’t help myself at all at that point,” Jewell said, and he was unable to feel his hands. “They put me in the cabin with the heater and had to pull me out of all of the waterlogged clothes, someone found dry long johns and helped me into those,” he said.
Within five minutes of the rescue, Tilghman Island Volunteer Fire Department’s boat arrived on scene, placing Jewell in a dry suit, used by firefighters for cold water rescues, and lined with heat packs to start the rewarming process and transferred him to the landing where an ambulance was waiting for transport to Easton Hospital.
Dwyer said when Jewell walked down the dock by himself to the ambulance, he could hardly believe it was possible.
Jewell’s boat, the Double Trouble is docked in Queenstown during the summer, and the community from both Queen Anne’s and Talbot County Watermen’s Association and Talbot, rallied to offer their support.
“This is a great group of volunteers and watermen in Talbot County,” Jewell said, “I’ve pulled other guys out of the water in winter before, but it’s the first time I’ve needed help, it’s nice to know they’ve got your back.”