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Family Speaks After Boy, Father Are Carried Out By Rip Tide

WESTHAMPTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A trip to the beach in the Hamptons this past weekend could have been tragic, but it turned out to a very happy ending.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, a disabled Long Island boy got caught up in a rip current off Cupsogue Beach in Westhampton Beach, Long Island, and then his father also got caught up in the current upon coming to the rescue.

On Monday, the family was thanking police.

Justyn Espiniera, 11, was swimming at Cupsogue Beach on Dune Road in Westhampton Beach around 6 p.m. Sunday. Lifeguards were off duty at the time, police said.

Justyn, who has autism, is a strong swimmer. But he suddenly drifted dangerously far.

"It just happened so fast -- when I turned around, he was far out. He was so far out," Espiniera said. "It was so scary."

Espiniera, 52, sprinted for his body board and paddled out to his son, but then, father and son were both grabbed by the current. They pulled nearly half a mile into the ocean toward Moriches Inlet, with Justyn's mom watching frantically from shore.

"They were so far out, we couldn't see them on the beach," said Wendy Espiniera. "They were just gone."

People on the Beach called 911. Suffolk County police sent a helicopter to keep watchful eyes on the pair clinging to the board until a Suffolk County marine boat reached them within 17 minutes.

Westhampton Beach Rescue Officers
Suffolk County police Marine Bureau Officers Robert Femia and Neil Stringer rescued an 11-year-old boy and his father from a rip current off a beach in Westhampton on Sunday, June 26, 2016. (Credit: Suffolk County Police

"Justyn's autistic, and we wanted to make sure that we didn't want to scare him at all," said Suffolk County police Marine Bureau Officer Robert Femia. "So we kind of just gave him a nice hug into the boat."

The Espineiras were grateful tragedy was averted.

"Thank you -- you have no idea what you have done for us," Wendy Espiniera said.

But police said the real hero is Justyn's dad.

"His thinking and grabbing that board changed the end results drastically," said Suffolk County police Officer Neil Stringer.

Wendy Espiniera said it was a life-and-death situation for both her husband and her son.

"If he didn't take the boogie board, he wouldn't be here today," she said.

Rick Espiniera said he has learned some lessons.

"Stay by your kids, and you know, rip tides are real," he said.

But despite the traumatic experience, when asked if he would go swimming again, Justyn enthusiastically said, "Yes!"

And they will be back, but with new respect for the ocean -- even for the strongest swimmers.

Police said the incident should serve as a reminder never to swim in the ocean without lifeguards on duty.

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