Coast Guard Awards Two Groton Residents for Actions

NEW LONDON, Conn. – Two Groton natives who rescued two kayakers earlier this month will be recognized by the Coast Guard in a formal award ceremony on Friday, Feb. 7, 2008.

Rear Adm. Timothy Sullivan, Commander, First Coast Guard District, along with Captain Dan Ronan, Commander Sector Long Island Sound, will present the Meritorious Public Service Award to John Roberts and Robert Butler and a Certificate of Merit to Shelly Erb and Greg Erb. Jenny Contois, District Director for Congressman Joe Courtney’s Office, Eleanor Mariani, Director, CT DEP Boating Division, and Mayor Harry Watson, Town of Groton will also be in attendance at the ceremony.

David Laffargue and his boating partner tipped over in their kayaks while on the Noank River on January 30, 2008. Laffargue’s friend managed to swim onto a floating raft; however Laffargue had remained in the 39° water fighting hypothermia.

At around 4 p.m., Shelly Erb spotted a man on a floating raft waiving his arms frantically and screaming for help from the road as she was driving home. She arrived at her house and informed her husband, Greg Erb, who immediately called the Noank Village Boatyard and 911.

John Roberts and Robert Butler, employees of the Noank Village Boatyard, aware of weather conditions and the threat of hypothermia, launched a boat immediately and found a man frantically waving his arms, and called 911. As the boat approached, Roberts and Butler saw a second man, Laffargue, clinging desperately to his kayak. They quickly headed for Laffargue and pulled him into the boat minutes before he lost his grip. The two men then picked up the second man and headed for the ambulance waiting on shore.

“The quick thinking of Mr. Butler, Mr. Roberts, and Mr. and Mrs. Erb saved these two men’s lives.” said Captain Dan Ronan, Commander, Sector Long Island Sound. “If the Erbs had just simply called 911 at least one of the two stranded kayakers would have certainly lost their lives due to the frigid 39 degree water temperatures. By notifying the boatyard the Erbs facilitated an immediate response to the men in distress. In addition to Shelly and Greg Erb’s efforts, the selfless actions of Mr. Butler and Mr. Roberts to launch a boat without hesitation in stormy conditions enabled the quickest response time possible and also directly contributed to saving at least one life.”

According to Ronan, Laffargue and his friend were not wearing life jackets and were not appropriately dressed for such extreme cold conditions.

Long Island Sound during the winter can be very dangerous to any inexperienced boater or weekend hobbyist. The frigid waters combined with the cold air temperatures and bad wind conditions make survival for a person in the water very difficult. The human body will also lose heat 25 times faster in cold water than in air and will generally begin to lose coordination and mobility within 15 minutes.

To avoid life threatening situations on the water take safety precautions and be familiar with the local weather conditions. Always be sure to wear a life jacket it is the single most important safety item. Statistically 8 out of 10 people who die in boating accidents were not wearing life jackets. Also remember to bring a VHF-FM marine radio. VHF-FM marine radio is the most reliable way to send a distress message. Many boaters in the area receive the distress message at the same time and this will ultimately speed rescue efforts among other boaters.

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