With tears starting to run down her face, Mary – a 13-year-old girl from the Cape May, NJ – pleaded for help while she clung for her life to the wooden frame of an old railroad bridge that crosses the Cape May Canal. Seconds earlier, with the idea of cooling off in the water, she had jumped from the old bridge about 18 to 20 feet above.
It’s a day that Dotte Moran, office manager of Sea Tow Cape May, will never forget. She saw Mary jump from the bridge and when their eyes locked a few seconds later, she knew that both their lives were about to be changed forever.
“My husband and I were on our way back in from a boating morning on the Delaware Bay; it was around noon,” Dotte recalled. “As we were coming through the canal, we saw two young girls on the old railroad bridge. I looked at my husband and said, ‘these kids are going to jump’ and just as I said it, one did.”
That Wednesday in mid-July started as an ordinary day off of work for Dotte. She and her husband Jack packed some ham and cheese sandwiches, chips, waters and sodas in the cooler and headed to the dock. They left that morning in their 20-foot Sea Hunt boat to do some flounder fishing in the Delaware Bay. While it was a nice morning out on the water, the fishing was slow so they decided to head back in just before noon. It was breezy with about 8 knots of wind and the tide was falling, creating a strong current out of the Cape May Canal into the Bay.
“It was sunny and nice, a great day to be out on the water,” Dotte said. “What made this day different is what we experienced on the way in.”
The crew at Sea Tow Cape May travel through the canal daily, but don’t often see people jumping from the old railroad bridge into the canal. It’s the old, broken-down type of bridge that makes you think of rusty nails that lead to tetanus shots, hot black tar, and broken wood that cause deep splinters. That’s why it was somewhat surprising to see two young girls getting ready to jump from the bridge.
Dotte recalls that it was a surreal experience to all of a sudden see the girl jump, fall through the air and then splash in the water below. Then it felt like a minute passed until they spotted her again, now hanging onto the barnacle-covered wooden frame of the old bridge.
“The tide was pushing so hard that it was actually forcing her against the piling,” Dotte noted. “I yelled, ‘Do you need help?’ and she sort of whimpered back, ‘Yes, please.’”
With the precision of a surgeon, Dotte’s husband slowly and carefully navigated their boat over to Mary. As they got closer, Dotte yelled, “Don’t let go!” from the bow of their boat.
“If she had let go, the current would have taken her away from us very quickly and I don’t know what would have happened,” Dotte acknowledged.
The two eventually locked hands, Dotte’s husband turned the engine off, and while holding on as tight as she could, Dotte walked Mary around to the stern of the boat where she could come aboard.
“I can’t imagine what could have happened if we had not been coming through at that time. It’s not every day that I get to be part of a rescue,” Dotte said. “With only minor scrapes from hanging on, I do think Mary learned a valuable lesson. She was very appreciative and I was impressed with how she handled herself.”
The second girl on the bridge who did not jump turned out to be Mary’s sister. Jack navigated out of the canal and down the shoreline where the sisters met up safely.
Having worked with Sea Tow for so many years and being an avid boater herself, Dotte has a keen sense of awareness on a boat. She looks for and sees things and situations that most wouldn’t notice. Her experience handling dispatch calls for area boaters certainly helped her prepare. Dotte’s dynamic ability to stay calm when the stakes are high is what created the positive outcome of this situation.