NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Rescued from a remote island, police found a kayaker shipwrecked off the coast of Queens all thanks to a signal he made in the sand.
Video shows NYPD Special Ops narrowing in on a man jumping and waving his arms, stranded on a deserted island in Jamaica Bay on Thursday. The word "HELP" was written with driftwood on the beach.
The 36-year-old middle school science teacher from Forest Hills had been stuck there for 12 hours.
He recounted the wild journey to CBS2's Ali Bauman over the phone, but he doesn't want the attention so he asked not to be named.
"It was very unlikely that I would run into anyone," he said.
The avid outdoorsman went out on his kayak Thursday morning, like he's done countless times before, for a trip to Ruffle Bar, an abandoned little island two miles off the coast of Floyd Bennett Field.
"It's a socially distant activity," he said.
The weather was calm when he embarked, but on his way back from the 140-acre island, the wind picked up and the waves were rough.
Not even halfway across the bay, the kayak started sinking.
"The kayak tipped and I fell out," he said.
He swam back to Ruffle Bar, clothes and cell phone sopping wet.
"I did find a lighter, and miraculously it was functional, so I lit a little fire on the beach," he said.
But the hours passed and nobody came.
"It was likely I was gonna spend the night there," he said.
That island in the middle of Queens was starting to look like a scene out of "Cast Away."
"I believe people trap certain fruits in Jamaica Bay, so there's a couple of coconuts on that island that I opened up and I drank a little bit of coconut water from," he said.
The teacher was collecting washed up debris on the beach and said his plan was to make that into a raft and try paddling back to mainland in the morning.
But before sunrise, he heard a helicopter buzzing.
"The guy landed and he's like, are you coming with us?" he said.
The teacher said he felt guilty about taking up the first responders' time.
"[The men in the ambulance] were two guys from Illinois who specifically came to New York to deal with the COVID situation," he said. "I kind of felt ashamed I was tying up all these resources ... but everyone was super nice to me and I'm glad I made it out of there."
Safe, and now back on dry land with his family.
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