Drone operator helps rescue kayaker from near death off Long Island


It was a good thing nature photographer Mike Busch headed to Moriches Inlet on Sunday for a little seal watching.

Because within a few minutes of his arrival, he would be helping save a man’s life.

“The odds of me being there at that exact time, like, it’s impossible to calculate,” said Busch, the photographic steward of Great South Bay Images.

It was actually Busch’s first time venturing out to the inlet since November.

He found the seals he was looking for, but he also found two kayakers traversing the inlet in 41-degree water. Around noon, as Busch was snapping seal photos, one of the kayakers paddled over to him, asking whether Busch had seen his friend.

Busch took out his long lens, zoomed in and scanned the horizon — only to find the other man’s kayak had capsized in the ocean.

“I said, ‘I’m calling 911! He’s going to get sucked down!'” Busch told Greater Long Island.

As the SCPD and local fire departments were en route, Busch sent up his drone and located the man floating in the frigid Atlantic Ocean, separated from his kayak but holding onto some sort of floatation device nearly 3/4’s of a mile out to sea. “He was passed the breakers,” Busch said.

All photos courtesy of Mike Busch/Great South Bay Images

Busch then directed the responders directly to the man, keeping his drone low and trained on the distressed kayaker.

“The cool thing about the drone was, I was able to tell the police exactly where he was,” Busch said. “My drone gives precise locations, so I was able to tell them 3,000 feet directly south of the east jetty.”

Then help arrived.

A Suffolk County PD helicopter en route to help locate the stranded kayaker. (Mike Busch)

“Westhampton Beach Chief Darryl Schunk was in command of the operation and oversaw the operations at the East Moriches Coast Guard Station, which was designated as the command post location,” reads an Eastport Fire Department account on Facebook.

“Eastport FD vessel, with Ex Chief Mark Yakaboski as the coxswain, along with his three-member crew were able to transit the inlet in less than 10 minutes and rescue the victim from the water. Lt. Dalen, a rescue swimmer, entered the water to assist recovering the victim who was suffering from hypothermia.”

At that point, both Busch and fire officials said, the man couldn’t move.

“Due to the victims inability to assist in getting into the vessel, Ex Chief Ryan King assisted the victim into the vessel,” the fire department account reads.

The Suffolk Police helicopter that was now waiting on land transported the man, whose identity has not been released, to Stony Brook University Medical Center for treatment.

An Eastport Fire Department rescue boat in the inlet. (Mike Busch)

Busch said he believes he’s expected to make a full recovery after being in the water for about 40 minutes.

He was likely only minutes away from dying of hypothermia in the frigid water. Busch also stressed that no one should ever try to cross the inlet in kayak, as even boats are known to capsize there.

“But the sad thing in my mind at the time — I was thinking — I’m going to watch a guy die,” Busch said. “Then it’s a rescue operation. The guy needed help and I’m thinking I’m going to watch him die and then follow his body and lead [the responders] to his body.”

The kayaker, he noted, was wearing a drysuit and a life vest.

“If he didn’t have a really good drysuit he would have been dead,” he said.

Mike Busch’s initial photo of the kayaker in distress, before Busch sent his drone up.

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