UPDATED: Sailing Instructors Rescue 8 Children Adrift on Sakonnet River
In a dramatic rescue Tuesday, eight children were saved after their sailboats were blown off course on the Sakonnet River.
In what began as a fun afternoon of sailing turned into a frightening turn of events for the Portsmouth Youth Sailing school Tuesday at Sandy Point Beach.
Eight children were rescued unharmed after their boats were blown off course by strong winds.
A woman was transported to the hospital for treatment after being in the water for more than an hour. Her medical condition is unknown tonight.
Portsmouth firefighters received a 911 phone call around 5:15 p.m. for "a distressed sailboat." When police and firefighters arrived at Sandy Point Beach, they soon learned it was not one sailboat involved, but six.
"When we got here, we learned it was a sailing school," said Portsmouth Deputy Fire Chief Michael Cranson.
Portsmouth Youth Sailing reportedly had six, 10-foot-long sailboats in the Sakonnet River when strong winds blew the boats off course. According to Cranson, the wind speed was 15 mph in a northwest direction at the time.
The sailboats, with children on board, were blown south along the river. [Updated Wednesday at 3:13 p.m.] Two instructors quickly took action.
In multiple trips, the instructors drove out in a motorboat and brought the children back one by one until all eight were accounted for. The instructors were also able to tow two of the sailboats back to shore.
Meanwhile, a woman on the beach swam out to the drifting sailboats in an attempt to help. According to reports, the woman is believed to have been in the water for more than an hour.
"She made it back to shore on her own," Cranson said.
The swimmer was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Her medical condition is unknown.
During the incident, the woman's dog, Drake, was left on shore. Portsmouth police helped return Drake to his owner later that night.
Two additional instructors, in a 28-foot sailboat, also went out to tow the remaining four drifting boats back to shore.
With the help of Portsmouth, Tiverton and Middletown Fire Departments, the Tiverton Harbormaster and U.S. Coast Guard, all four sailboats were recovered.
Members of Portsmouth Youth Sailing refused to speak about the rescue. "We will not be providing a comment tonight," said one man who appeared to lead the group.
Portsmouth School Committee member Jonathan Harris was also seen briefly at the rescue site. [Updated Tuesday at 11:23 p.m.] In an e-mail sent late Tuesday, Harris said two of his children were among the group rescued.
According to Cranson, this is the first rescue at Sandy Point Beach involving the youth sailing school. Portsmouth Youth Sailing is a summer program aimed at teaching the sport of sailing to children, ages 5 to 14.