New York State Harbormaster & Bay Constable Association
In The News - Southampton Town Bay Constables - April 15,2009
Publication: The Southampton Press
Two teenage girls are rescued in Flanders Bay
By Jessica DiNapoli
Apr 15, 09 11:37 AM
An errant softball, mistakenly tossed into a canal behind a home in Flanders, was all it took to send two 14-year-old
girls on a nautical journey that almost landed them in Jamesport last week.
Dineen O’Rourke of East Quogue and Stephanie Vitarelli of Remsenburg, both students at Westhampton Beach
Middle School, were practicing softball in the backyard of the Pine Avenue home that is owned by Stephanie’s
parents at around 11:30 a.m. last Wednesday, April 8. After the ball landed in the canal behind the home, the girls,
who play on the Westhampton Beach Middle School softball team, figured that they could use a small dock to paddle
over and retrieve the ball, which had by that time floated out of the canal and into Flanders Bay.
But half an hour later, two Southampton Town bay constables had to rescue the girls, who were wet, shivering,
scared and stranded on top of the floating dock as it drifted north and east toward Simmons’ Point in Jamesport.
The girls had drifted more than a mile from where they had initially entered Flanders Bay, near the mouth of Goose
Creek in Flanders, located just east of Long Neck Boulevard in Flanders.
“It was extremely, really scary,” Dineen said. “The waves were really big, big for the bay.”
After they were returned to dry land, the girls were examined and it was determined that they did not require medical
attention, according to Southampton Town Police.
Ted Sadleir, a senior Southampton Town bay constable, explained that a strong southwesterly gust of wind pushed
the dock that the girls had been using to retrieve the softball out into Flanders Bay. He said the girls were fortunate
to have stayed aboard the dock as both could have suffered from hypothermia if they had fallen into the 45-degree
The girls were rescued by senior Southampton Town Bay Constable Christopher Kohnken of Sag Harbor and Bay
Constable Richard Franks of Hampton Bays.
“Once they were past the point of not being able to walk to shore, they did the right thing by staying on the dock,”
Mr. Sadleir said. “They would have suffered hypothermia and drowned.”
Because the dock was only 4 feet by 6 feet in size, and has a 10-inch profile, the waves in Flanders Bay washed
over the dock several times, the girls said. Dineen said that, at one point, she was certain that the dock was going to
tip over and send both of them into the chilly water.
“If they didn’t come when they did, we probably would’ve flipped,” Dineen said of Mr. Kohnken and Mr. Franks.
Mr. Sadleir said he did not know who owns the dock, noting that it might have washed up along the shore, near
where the girls were playing. He explained that the dock has a wood exterior and a Styrofoam interior, the latter of
which makes it buoyant.
Stephanie’s 13-year-old sister, Laura Vitarelli, also a student at Westhampton Beach Middle School, was playing
softball with Dineen and Stephanie right before the two friends drifted out into the bay. Laura said she first tried to
pull her sister and Dineen back to shore by swimming toward the dock and grabbing a rope that was attached to it.
“It was too cold, I couldn’t breathe,” Laura said, adding that she was worried about her sister.
Laura then ran to the home and told her mother, Dawn Vitarelli, what had happened to her sister and their friend.
After failing to contact the U.S. Coast Guard, Ms. Vitarelli said she then called the Southampton Town Police
Department which, in turn, notified the Southampton Town Bay Constables.
Mr. Sadleir said the U.S. Coast Guard responded to the call, as did the Suffolk County Police Department’s Aviation
Unit. The Riverhead Town Police Department was also notified and responded to the incident as well.
“I was so frantic,” Ms. Vitarelli recalled. “I didn’t have any visual of them. They had floated out so quickly, I couldn’t
Ms. Vitarelli said she wanted to express her gratitude to Mr. Kohnken and Mr. Franks for rescuing the two girls, and
the Southampton Town Police Department for bringing them back home safe and sound. Mr. Franks explained that
as soon as the girls were on land again, they were cared for by the police.
“I hugged them,” Ms. Vitarelli said when asked what was the first thing she did upon seeing the girls again.
Maria O’Rourke, Dineen’s mother, said on Tuesday that she did not even know her daughter had been in such a
predicament until after she was returned the shore safely.
“All I felt was gratitude for the people who helped rescue them and for the fact that they had not fallen overboard
and drowned,” Ms. O’Rourke said.
Mr. Kohnken, who has been a Southampton Town Bay Constable for 22 years, said one challenge that he and Mr.
Frank faced in rescuing the girls was initially spotting them. He explained that the water on Flanders Bay was very
rough on the day of the incident.
“When it’s not rough, you can pick out an object on the water easier, but when you have waves and whitecaps, it’s
difficult to see something, especially because the dock had a low profile,” Mr. Kohnken said.
Mr. Kohnken explained that he had to be careful while steering his 25-foot Boston Whaler close to the dock. He
noted that any wrong move could have sent the girls into the water. He said the girls were brought onto the boat
through its dive door.
On Tuesday, Dineen and Stephanie explained that after initially drifting into the bay, both used rowboat paddles that
they had taken with them to try to make their way back to shore. But after paddling for about 15 minutes, Dineen
said they were exhausted and agreed that a better plan would be to let the wind push them across the bay to
At one point, Stephanie said she thought about swimming back to shore, before the dock had drifted too far into
Flanders Bay. However, she said she went about halfway into the water before realizing that it was just too cold.
“I knew we wouldn’t have made it,” Dineen said.
Ms. O’Rourke hopes that both girls, who are good swimmers, learned an important lesson from the incident: that one
must always be extremely careful when around a body of water.
“Just be smart—let the softball go,” Stephanie said, echoing Ms. O’Rourke’s feelings.