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Salam Aidil Fitri al Mubarak 2011... Slideshow: Azierahman’s trip to Chengkau (near Seremban), Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia was created by TripAdvisor. See another Seremban slideshow. Create a free slideshow with music from your travel photos.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

From Romantic Sail to Night of Terror : 2

Morgan, meanwhile, swam away from the barge and, astonishingly, got out of its way. After the hulking vessel passed her, she began a frenzied crawl stroke, knowing that in the darkness, another ship could run her down.

But the waves kept coming at her. She tried diving underneath them, establishing a ragged rhythm: pop up to the surface and gulp air, swim three or four strokes, then dive again. Halfway across the channel, her arms burned, her legs dragged, and her heart hammered so hard in her chest that she gasped for air.

Stopping to tread water, she felt fear gnawing at her. She thought of her sisters. Christina, 18, had come to live with her at age 12. Morgan had made her breakfast, helped her with homework, cheered her on at soccer games, and tucked her in at night. She'd done the same for Megan, now 17. They're too young for me to die, she thought. They need me.

On the other side of the channel, Morgan spotted the lighthouse off Gibson Island. Thinking there might be a ladder to hang on to, she headed toward it, alternately paddling and swimming on her back. But when she floated up to it, she almost cried. The iron sides offered no handholds-the ladder was set high above the water to deter vandals.

In the distance, she could see lights, brighter now, along the shore. She pushed off and headed for them. Please don't go out, she prayed.

At 9:25 p.m., about an hour after Morgan had jumped into the water, the 911 dispatcher notified the Anne Arundel County Fire Department of a woman overboard. The county in turn alerted the Coast Guard, the Maryland Natural Resources Police, and the Annapolis Fire Department. The four agencies prepared to send rescue vessels to Fraizzoli's sailboat, while county fire officials set up a command unit on the ground at nearby Gibson Island to coordinate the search.

Greg Young, an Annapolis firefighter, had just finished dinner when the alarm beeped twice. Within ten minutes, he and two other firefighters were motoring out of the harbor on Fireboat 35, a 40-foot cruiser with a sweeper spotlight on the roof.

Young, 29, a seven-year fire department veteran and the boat's pilot, was not optimistic. He and the other crew members—Philip Morris and Michael Lonergan—had been out on dozens of man-overboard calls. They knew it would be almost impossible to locate a bobbing head in that vast darkness, especially with a heavy chop on the water. In fact, none of them could remember an overboard call that had resulted in a live rescue. Either they were false alarms or the bodies were found days or weeks later.

By 10 p.m., Fireboat 35 and three other rescue boats were nearing Fraizzoli's sloop. A police officer boarded the boat and questioned Fraizzoli, then asked to see Morgan's driver's license. "She's beautiful," the officer said to him. Fraizzoli, who had stayed calm during the interview, broke down. "You're right," he sobbed. Tricia is more than a girlfriend, he thought. She's more like my wife. And now she was gone.

Fraizzoli described to the rescue crews the last place he thought he'd seen Morgan. Young began a grid search aboard Fireboat 35. He and his crew assumed Morgan had attempted to swim toward shore, so Young steered the boat slowly back and forth along the two-mile-wide strip of water between the shipping lane and Gibson Island, stopping every few minutes to look and listen.

On the rolling deck of the fireboat, Lonergan, 24, and Morris, 29, scanned the waves with a handheld spotlight. A half hour passed. Nothing. The water temperature was a survivable 60-plus degrees, but the relentless pounding of the waves was sure to exhaust even an experienced swimmer. Morgan would have been in the water for nearly two hours by now.

"Fireboat 61, can you come in and pick up personnel and equipment?" came a voice on the marine radio. The men knew what that meant: Fire officials were preparing to switch the mission from a rescue to a body retrieval. A side-scan sonar, which allows emergency personnel to search for drowning victims in deep water, would be loaded onto one of the fireboats. The county dive team, wearing wet suits, stood on a nearby pier, ready to join the search. On Fireboat 35, the radio grew quiet, the slapping of waves making the only sound. Suddenly Morris shouted, “I think I heard somebody scream.” Young stopped the engines. Everybody listened.

Standing on the bow of the boat, Lonergan and Morris looked at each other, stunned. Did you hear that? Young opened the doors and windows to the cabin. The three men strained to hear.
Another faint sound.

Morgan had seen the boat's searchlight and yelled. But her strength was failing. They can't see me, she thought.
Young restarted the motor and inched the cruiser toward the voice. Go slowly, he told himself, trying to calm his adrenaline rush. He didn't want to pass her by or, worse, hit her.

Lonergan grabbed a boat hook and a life jacket. He and Morris gripped the rail, straining to hear. The light atop the boat swept the waves. Inside the cabin, Young shut down the motor twice more so the men could listen. Morgan's voice grew louder. "It sent a chill up your back to hear it," Morris says. "She was screaming for her life."

Finally, the spotlight shone on Morgan's head. The men shouted, and Lonergan held out the boat hook so Morgan could reach the life jacket he had hung from it. She grabbed at it but missed. Then Young slid the boat sideways and Morris lay down on his stomach, his heart beating against the wet deck. If he had to, he, or one of the other men, would jump in after her. They had each practiced the water rescue drill dozens of times.

While Morris leaned out over the water, Lonergan held his legs. Morgan summoned a final bit of strength and paddled toward the boat. Morris dropped her a life ring, then reached toward her and grabbed her arm. "Don't let go!" she yelled.
"We've got you!" Morris shouted.

Morgan held the life ring with one hand and Morris's arm with the other. Within seconds, the three men were able to maneuver her along the side of the boat to the swim platform at the stern. Reaching under her arms, Morris and Lonergan hauled her on board, where she collapsed.

Emergency officials throughout the area were stunned, calling it a one-in-a-million rescue. Taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital, Morgan was treated for dehydration and exhaustion and released after a few hours.

At a ceremony honoring her rescuers about a month later, she expressed her gratitude to everyone who had helped save her, including her sisters. She'd thought of them when she felt she couldn't go on, worrying about getting Christina into college and Megan through high school.
As for Fraizzoli, Morgan had had a few thoughts about him too. "I was thinking if Carlo hadn't waited to put the motor on and the sails down, I wouldn't be in this position," she said ruefully. In fact, he'd helped fuel her determined progress through the water that night. "Every time I stroked with my right arm, I thought, If I make it through, he's selling that damn boat.” With the left arm: “He's going to marry me."

Fraizzoli and Morgan did marry, two months after her rescue, at the Baltimore city courthouse. Surrounded by a small group of relatives and friends, Fraizzoli gazed at Morgan, who wore a white strapless dress and clutched a bouquet of white roses. He credits the near tragedy for bringing the two of them closer. "I realized I didn't want to lose her again," Fraizzoli says. "I wanted to stay together forever."


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