DUNEDIN — Two men relaxing at the Dunedin Causeway rescued a 76-year-old man clinging to the side of his small capsized boat on Wednesday afternoon.
Swimmer Chris Russo, 35, and Ryan Smith, driving a water scooter, brought the man, identified as Jerome Cohen of Palm Harbor, back to the beach from about 350 feet offshore, according to authorities. He was treated by Dunedin firefighters and transported by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center.
Authorities said Cohen's 10-foot johnboat was anchored, and it is unclear whether he suffered a medical problem and fell overboard or was ejected.
Cohen was described as "unresponsive" when he was reached by Russo.
Russo, a bartender who recently moved to Palm Harbor from the Orlando area, and a female friend were "getting some sun, taking in the afternoon" on the beach when they noticed Smith circling what they had thought was an overturned boat.
When Smith's wake briefly turned the boat, they noticed the man clinging to the bow. Smith raced to shore, coincidentally right to Russo, telling him the man was on his back, purple and had "quivering lips."
A female passenger jumped off the water scooter to let Russo aboard and the men began a rescue attempt.
"We circle him and I yelled at the guy," Russo recalled. "I asked (Smith) to get as close as he could and I tried to get him up, but he was old, and a little overweight and water-logged, just dead weight."
Russo jumped into the water, securing Cohen under his armpit and held Smith's hand for a tow ashore as he kept the man's ahead above the waves. Fire-rescue crews were arriving as they reached the beach.
Russo has no lifeguard training, no particular skills that would have helped in the rescue he said, besides being willing to jump off his blanket.
"The guy needed help," he said. "I just jumped in. Everybody else was just standing around."