Paraplegic skipper lauded for saving lives at sea

The capsized boat of paraplegic skipper Nicholas Masi III, of Biddeford, Maine, is seen off the Maine coast after it rolled about 5 miles from Kennebunkport, Sept. 30, 2011.
AP/USCG Mark Coady

PORTLAND, Maine - A paraplegic skipper is being credited with actions that helped save the lives of all but one friend on his pleasure fishing boat as it took on water in rough seas off Maine.

The 24-foot boat, Job Site 2, swamped and rolled upside down Friday while anchored about 5 miles off Kennebunkport during a day of fishing for bluefin tuna.

The outcome could have been worse if skipper Nicholas Masi III, of Biddeford, hadn't calmly told the three other men on board to put on survival suits and issued a mayday with his precise coordinates, Maine Marine Patrol Sgt. Rob Beal said.

Moments after Masi radioed a distress call, the boat rolled over in 4- to 5-foot seas, 63-degree water and few other boats in the area.

"If he hadn't kept his head and radioed a distress call, it's hard to say how long all four individuals would have been in the water," Beal said. "You can only speculate from there."

Masi has used a wheelchair since he was paralyzed four years ago in an accident while working as a house builder. He was not immediately available for comment on the boating accident.

Last Friday, he and three friends from Biddeford had taken his Grady-White boat to a fishing spot, where they anchored for a few hours of fishing on a beautiful fall day.

Around 3 p.m., the boat started taking on water from the rough seas that had kicked up with the afternoon wind.

The boat's bilge pump couldn't work fast enough, so the men tried to pull up the anchor and crank up the outboard engine so the water would escape from openings, Beal said. But the anchor line was tangled in the propeller, and the engine wouldn't start once it got untangled.

That's when Masi instructed the others to put on their survival suits before getting on the radio and transmitting a distress call with his situation and location.

Once the boat rolled over, Masi told his friends to stay together, stay close to the boat and use a cooler to help keep them afloat if needed, said Daricus Hunter, who was on board.

"I'm alive because of one of my best friends," Hunter said about Masi.

Douglas Eisenberg, 47, died at the scene. Hunter said that Isenberg may have had a heart attack. His greatest fear had been that something would happen at sea to put Masi in harm's way, Hunter said.