Scuba divers and water rescue experts on Long lsland gave high marks yesterday to those who helped save jet passengers who crash-landed in the Hudson River last week and say rescue crews in Nassau and Suffolk are ready to respond if such a disaster happens here.
Steve Bielenda, a scuba diving expert from Miller Place who has trained both New York City and Suffolk County police divers, attributed Thursday’s miraculous rescue to the careful and constant training that rescue teams, which oversaw the emergency response efforts, conduct during the year.
“You don’t know what you’re getting jumping into the Hudson – it can be murky and dirty with visibility of only a few inches, or it can be clear and you can see maybe 15 feet,” said Bielenda, who has trained in the river.
He said scuba divers first try to find the most vulnerable victims who are alive when they arrive at a disaster scene – in this case, those who may have already fallen into the river. “They [victims] can quickly get hypothermia in the frozen water and their bodies can quickly shut down,” he said. “If someone went under the water, they could easily drift with the currents and it makes things much more complicated.”
About 40 of the approximately 125 volunteer Long Island fire departments have trained scuba divers and water rescue specialists, said Bill Pfeiffer, a Nesconset fire department water rescue specialist who is president of the Long Island Divers Association. He said the volunteers, who learned how to save lives both on the surface and under the water would assist Suffolk, Nassau and other law-enforcement agencies with their own scuba and rescue squads in the event of a similar disaster.
“If a plane went down in the Long Island Sound or in Lake Ronkonkoma, we’d be called in to help,” said Pfeiffer, 51, who was training with other scuba divers yesterday in the frozen waters of Lake Ronkonkoma, not far from Long Island MacArthur airport.
Pfeiffer praised the efforts of police scuba divers who responded Thursday to help prevent the loss of any lives in the brisk, murky currents of the Hudson River. “I think everyone responded in an exemplary fashion,” he said.
Pfeiffer said Long Island’s scuba divers and rescue teams from volunteer fire departments are tied together through each county’s 911 emergency response system. He says constant training is necessary, including maintaining physical conditioning. A plane crash presents great dangers because of fuel spills that could easily explode and turn into fires. “You can [have] hazardous toxic material in the water with you, so you don’t know what to expect.”