2012-10-05 / Front Page

Tragedy averted at Pine Point

Two citizens rescue man from riptide
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Just after 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6, East Grand Avenue resident, Maurice Theriault headed to Pine Point Beach for a quick dip in the ocean like he had done countless times since 1990, when he began summering in the area.

What happened that afternoon was unlike anything Theriault had ever experienced before.

Theriault said he decided to head to the ocean that afternoon after spending much of the day going up and down a ladder while doing some roof work on a rental property he owns in Pine Point.

It was a bright sunny day outside, but due to the remnants of Hurricane Leslie, which passed by the coast of Maine before making landfall in Canada, the wave action was more fierce than typically seen this time of year.

Theriault said he had gone in the water a dozen times that summer and didn’t think anything of the waves that day.

“I typically go out and float on my back for the enjoyment of it, but when I went to go back (to shore), I got fatigued and couldn’t make any progress,” he said.

After continuing to fight the riptide that he got caught in, Theriault said he waved to Conor Gordon, who was surfing nearby on a small boogie board.

Gordon waved back, thinking Theriault was simply saying hello. Theriault continued waving and yelling, eventually prompting Gordon to head out to Theriault, realizing Theriault was not waving hello, but rather signaling he was in trouble.

The waves, however, kept them from making much progress and hushed any sort of communication Gordon and Theriault could have made with people back on shore.

Much like Theriault did moments before, Gordon who was trained as a lifeguard while growing up in Virginia, waved and yelled at his uncle, Joe Mack, who had just entered the water to catch some surf on his surf board.

“There was no panic or distress amongst the both of them,” Mack recalled. “I didn’t think anything of it, nor did anyone else on the beach.”

Nevertheless, Mack headed over to Theriault and Gordon. After 15 minutes of fighting the riptide with Mack, Theriault was able to float on the surf board back to shore.

“It was a dual-effort rescue,” said Mack, who spends his summers at Pine Point. “Conor was the initial rescuer. I don’t think the rescue could have happened without both of us.”

“It was something I do fairly regularly,” Theriault said of heading to Pine Point Beach, “but it was the first time I ever experienced something like that. We rarely have riptides, but the waves were great that day.”

Mack and Theriault are not strangers. Mack’s mother has owned the home next to Theriault’s since 1965 and Mack was once a tenant of Theriault’s.

“We’ve talked quite often as neighbors,” Mack said, adding the two of them had talked earlier that day about property taxes.

The effort was completely citizen-led. Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow said the rescue was made without town resources. The beach is not staffed with lifeguards and the fire and emergency medical service were not called to respond to the scene. Thurlow did say the marine rescue team made 23 calls this summer, but not all of them were for shore rescues in Scarborough. Some, he said, were mutual aid calls in Old Orchard Beach and other areas in Saco Bay.

Kathleen Gordon, Joe’s sister and Conor Gordon’s mother, has seen many summers at Pine Point, but has never seen the ocean the way it was on Sept. 6.

“I haven’t seen the ocean like that ever,” said Kathleen Gordon, who was vacationing in the area at the time. “The waves were so big. It was a beautiful day, but there weren’t too many people in the water because of the waves.”

“It was a receding tide. It was at full tide, but was heading out which makes it more prone to riptides,” Mack said.

Kathleen Gordon did not see the event transpire, but was on the beach that day, playing in the sand with her granddaughter, Leah. She knows, however, without the quick thinking of her son and brother, the incident could have had a much different outcome.

“It still gives me goose bumps when I think of it,” Kathleen Gordon said. “(Maurice) was at the point where he couldn’t do anything except float. If Conor and Joe hadn’t gone out there, I don’t know what would have happened.”

Theriault said he is grateful that Conor Gordon and Mack were in the right place at the right time to offer him assistance.

“When we were all talking on the beach afterwards I told them, ‘It’s a nice thing when you can go to bed at night with the feeling that you probably saved a life,’” Theriault said.

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