Fisherman's boat capsizes in middle of the night - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Fisherman's boat capsizes in middle of the night

STUART, FL (WFLX) - Wednesday night was a scary one for two men going fishing in the St. Lucie River.

Cries for help around 1:30 a.m. woke up Gene Rifkin's dog Elvis in their Pelican Drive home. Rifkin said Elvis started barking like crazy.

"It got us up. We went out and started exploring, and we heard a voice, a man's voice crying, ‘Help me. Help me!' And, so immediately, we called 911," said Rifkin, a former Stuart city commissioner.

Officers arrived to find Joe Connolly of Jensen Beach cramping and panicking in the water. His boat had capsized in the middle of the river. He swam to get help, and he almost made it to shore. His friend, David Cosner of Jensen Beach stayed back, was found clinging to the canoe.

"I was whooped," said Connolly. "It took me two-and-a-half, three hours to swim from the middle of the river to the shore." 

Rescuing both fishermen was truly a team effort. Neighbors, police officers and even a hound dog were involved in their recovery.

Stuart Police Officer David Jacobson waded in and carried Connolly out. "I took off what equipment I needed to take off -- my belt and my gear -- and went out in the water and recovered him," said Jacobson.

Connolly told police his buddy was still stranded in the river. Neighbor Wayne Barski took a couple officers out on his boat to search for Cosner.

"We didn't even know where to start looking," said Barski. "And then we heard a yell, and so we went in the direction and within five minutes, we found the second person."

Back on shore, paramedics determined both men were in good shape.

On Thursday, Connolly was feeling grateful and wanted to talk to the man who rescued his buddy. 

"I just wanted to say thank you very much, and God bless you," Connolly told Barski over a telephone call.

It was a nice ending to what could have been devastating.

But for Connolly, the story isn't over.

He said he lost about $1,000 worth of fishing gear. He is asking anyone who finds a canoe and a couple Penn rods and poles near the St. Lucie River to call him at 561-503-6551.

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