LINCOLN, Maine — Gary Perry Jr. didn’t have time to think.
He, his father, Gary Perry Sr., and his friend Kyle Davis had just returned Wednesday from the funeral of Davis’ father, who had died suddenly while fishing in a boat in western Maine, when Perry’s friend Jeremy Priest telephoned shortly after 7:40 p.m. A Lincoln firefighter, Priest wanted to know whether Perry and his friends were the boaters from Gardiner whom firefighters had just been sent to rescue from the frigid waters of Upper Coldstream Pond.
No, we are not, Perry said.
Perry ran to the shoreline from Davis’ house on Transalpine Road and saw an aluminum boat, a 12-footer, capsized in the water maybe a half-mile from where he stood. Two men he didn’t know were floating alongside, obviously in big trouble.
“We were just kind of reacting. It was really overwhelming,” Perry said Thursday. “We had just come from that funeral.”
With the elder Perry taking command, the three men took Davis’ boat and sped to the rescue of the two men, hauling them into their craft and racing them to shore and the home of Stanhope Mill Road resident Sue Blood.
“One guy was pretty bad. He was crying. We just grabbed them and pulled them into the boat,” Perry Jr. said. “The guy who was crying was saying how scared he was and we were like, ‘You are fine. It will be all right now.’ We were just trying to keep him from totally losing it.”
The three men did far better than that, Lincoln Fire Chief Phil Dawson said. Without their intervention, the two fishermen might have died of hypothermia.
“The challenge was getting out there in a timely manner against rough waters and high winds and plucking two people out of the water who were barely able to help themselves into a boat,” Dawson said Thursday. “It’s life or death, hypothermia. If you don’t get them in, they will not be able to help themselves in a timely manner and most likely they would drown out there.”
The Gardiner men, 36-year-old James Deaton and 19-year-old Adam Cobb, were treated for hypothermia or hypothermia symptoms at Penobscot Valley Hospital of Lincoln and later released, officials said.
Neither was wearing a personal flotation device when their boat capsized as they fished, said Edith Smith, director of information and education at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“They were very fortunate that they had the camp owners nearby,” Smith said Thursday.
Blood said she heard muffled noises while she helped her daughter with a school science project and recognized them as cries for help when she opened her back door.
Blood was headed for the shoreline to Upper Coldstream, which is about two-thirds of a mile wide at its widest point, when she saw the capsized boat and the two men, who were less than halfway across the pond from her position on the south shore.
Blood immediately called 911 before taking the two fishermen into her home and giving them blankets once Davis and the Perrys brought them ashore.
Seeing the two men adrift in the water provoked within Blood “a very helpless feeling,” she said. “It was horrible. If we had our boat in [the water] we could have gone and gotten them ourselves, but we didn’t.”
The incident was reported at 7:39 p.m. and the Lincoln Fire Department was paged at 7:42 p.m., said a dispatcher at Penobscot Regional Communications Center in Bangor. The boaters were reported safe by 7:52 p.m., having been immersed for at least 15 minutes.
A 23-year-old student at the University of Maine in Orono, Perry was glad to help, but said Priest also deserved a huge amount of credit for the rescue.
“We would not have seen them if it wasn’t for him calling me,” Perry said.
It was Perry’s first rescue experience, but not his father’s. The elder Perry had been capsized while fishing the West Branch of the Penobscot River several years ago and been rescued by a friend after nearly freezing to death himself, his son said.
“My dad organized everything,” Perry said of the rescue Wednesday night. “I was just trying to listen to my dad. There wasn’t much thinking involved for me.”
Also known as the Big Narrows, Upper Coldstream Pond is located off Forest, Stanhope Mill and Transalpine roads about six miles southeast of downtown Lincoln. It is among 13 bodies of water entirely within the town’s limits and known for being exceptionally windblown and choppy in spring and fall.
Perry didn’t blame Deaton and Cobb for the accident.
“The fishing isn’t bad out there. It wasn’t bad [weather] during the day. The wind just picked up and they found themselves on the wrong side of the lake,” Perry said.