June 25, 2018
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Lobstermen rescue pair trapped in SUV underwater

The Rockland Fire Department responded as mutual aid to South Thomaston for a car that was in the water at the South Thomaston public landing Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010. (Photo courtesy of Rockland Fire Department)
By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

SOUTH THOMASTON, Maine — Two lobstermen helped to rescue a man and woman Sunday afternoon after their SUV plunged into the water near the South Thomaston Public Landing.

“We were tying up our skiff and heard a horrendous crash,” said Rolf Winters of South Thomaston. “We looked up and saw the car flying through the air.”

According to Knox County sheriff’s Deputy Matt Elwell, Frank Rankin, 77, of Camden had been driving through South Thomaston with passenger Ruth Duff, 85, also of Camden, at about 1:45 p.m. when his foot went numb. Rankin pulled in to the town landing and tried to hit the brake, but accidentally hit the accelerator instead and plunged over the stone wall and into the Weskeag River.

Winters, a retired volunteer firefighter for South Thomaston, said that he and his son Kurt Winters, 31, were 15 feet or so away when the silver Dodge Durango hit the water nose-first.

“It was airborne right in front of our eyes,” he said. “It really went down fast.”

The shocked lobstermen saw the air bags deploy and noticed that the two people within weren’t moving much, so they called 911 and then acted fast.

“My son dove in and I ran up to the truck to get a wrench to bust the windows in,” he said.

The doors were locked but Kurt Winters — who has had some first aid and survival training — was able to haul Rankin out of the driver’s side window. His father held the seemingly dazed man against his skiff until help arrived, but Duff was still trapped in the vehicle eight feet underwater.

“[Kurt] swam to the driver’s side, dived in the window, grabbed the lady and pulled her out,” Rolf Winters said. “At first, we thought she was dead, because she’d been down there so long.”

Both Rankin and Duff, who were taken to Penobscot Bay Medical Center, are going to be OK, Elwell said, thanks in part to the two Samaritans who happened to be on the scene because they had had some boat troubles.

“Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have gotten out, thanks to their age,” he said.

Responding agencies included South Thomaston Fire Department, South Thomaston Rescue, Rockland Fire and EMS, the Maine Marine Patrol, the Maine State Police and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

Crews worked until 4:25 p.m. to winch the Durango out of the water, Elwell said.

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