- Associated Press - Monday, October 24, 2016

IPSWICH, Mass. (AP) - Randy Hackett is a regular swimmer at Crane Beach in his hometown of Ipswich. He swims along the shoreline about three times a week and takes part every year in the Crane Beach triathlon.

None of which prepared him for what took place on Oct. 18.

Hackett’s evening swim turned into a dramatic rescue scene when he got lost in dense fog and strong rip currents that pulled him two miles from shore. Four-and-a-half hours after he first jumped into the ocean, Hackett was hoisted to safety by a Coast Guard diver who had been lowered into the water from a helicopter.

Resting at home on Wednesday, Hackett expressed his gratitude for the massive rescue effort, which also included a Coast Guard airplane and boat, Ipswich police and firefighters, a Massachusetts State Police K-9 unit, the Massachusetts Environmental Police, and staff from Crane Beach and the Trustees of Reservations.

“I’m so impressed with all the first-responders and what they were able to do to come out in those conditions,” he said.

The ordeal began at about 5:15 p.m. when Hackett, 58, went for a swim with his daughter’s boyfriend, 28-year-old Alexander Auerbach of Edgartown. The two began swimming parallel to the shore when, about 10 minutes in, a “thick pea soup fog” came up, according to Hackett.

“I literally couldn’t see beyond my hand,” he said.

The fog was soon followed by a strong rip tide, what Hackett called a “kind of perfect storm” that left him and Auerbach disoriented and eventually separated.

At 7:04 p.m., Ipswich police and fire received a call that two people had gone for a swim and failed to return. At 7:23 p.m., Auerbach, having swam ashore, walked up to what was now a command post of rescue personnel set up in the parking lot at Crane.

In the meantime, Hackett had drifted farther from shore and about two miles east of the parking lot. With the thick fog and darkness, he could not determine the direction of the shore. While his family and friends were gathering on shore, Hackett stayed afloat by doing a combination of breaststroke, sidestroke and floating on his back, varying his position in order to avoid getting cramps.

“I tried to relax and not panic,” he said. “I was wearing a wet suit so I wasn’t cold, and the wet suit keeps you afloat. I just had to wait out the weather. As long as you don’t expend a lot of energy, you can just kind of hang out and wait.”

After about three hours, the thick fog began to clear. Hackett could now see the moon, gain his bearings, and figure out which way to shore. He estimated that he swam about a mile toward shore when, over the horizon, he spotted the lights that had been set up on Crane Beach.

“I thought, ‘Oh, man, all these people are out to rescue me,’” he said.

At 9:19 p.m., the Coast Guard helicopter notified the command post that the crew had spotted a swimmer treading water, about a quarter-mile from shore and two miles east of the Crane Beach main offices. The crew lowered the diver, who helped Hackett into a harness.

“The guy said he liked my wet suit. He said he has the same model,” Hackett said.

The “brave” crew, as Hackett called them, hoisted the pair into the helicopter in a scene that was captured on a Coast Guard video. Hackett was reunited with his family on shore and taken by ambulance to a hospital for evaluation.

During the whole ordeal, Hackett said, he was mostly concerned about his family and how worried they would be. He is married with five children, works as a director of videos and TV commercials, and has lived in Ipswich for 23 years.

“I feel very lucky to be so supported and living in such a great community,” he said.

As for lessons learned, Hackett said, even the most experienced swimmers must remain vigilant.

“I guess the sea is capricious and unpredictable,” he said. “You have to treat it with respect.”

___

Information from: The Salem (Mass.) News, http://www.salemnews.com

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