Lucky Oppedisano helped get fellow crewmember Devin Pesce breathing again after he became tangled in rope and trapped underwater for several minutes Wednesday.
A fisherman who was pulled overboard and down into the frigid Atlantic by a sinking string of lobster traps Wednesday morning off York County was pulled back on board and successfully given CPR by his crew.
Devin Pesce, 19, of Lisbon Falls was in serious condition at Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford on Wednesday night, a spokeswoman said.
After being on the verge of death, Pesce walked off the boat on his own, said Lucky Oppedisano, who was on the boat along with Pesce’s father, Dan, the owner and captain. Oppedisano called it a blessing.
“When you bring somebody back to life, it makes you think about all the other stuff that’s really not important,” he said.
Dan Pesce could not be reached Wednesday.
Devin Pesce was working on his father’s 42-foot boat, the Kylie Brooke out of Harpswell, pulling and rebaiting traps 15 miles east of Cape Porpoise.
The long line of connected traps, called strings or trawls, was in water 200 to 300 feet deep, where lobsters go in cold weather.
The swells were just 1.3 feet, but it was cold. The water temperature was 38.7 degrees and the air temperature was 14.5 degrees, the Coast Guard said.
At 9:15 a.m., the crew hadn’t been working the traps long.
“We were only four strings in,” Oppedisano said. “We had just hauled a string and were setting it back out.”
Devin Pesce was bundled up for the cold, in orange and yellow rain gear with a red raincoat. The Lisbon High School graduate is an experienced lobsterman despite his youth.
“He’s been going lobstering with his dad since he could walk,” Oppedisano said. “He’s as good a helper as there is around.”
He said, “We’re set up so accidents don’t happen, but accidents do happen.”
Getting tangled in a line that connects a string of traps is one of the most prevalent and deadly hazards on a lobster boat, especially in deep water, where lobstermen use longer trap strings.
“Rope is probably the single biggest hazard on a lobster boat,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “Imagine needing to get traps to 300 feet and extending on the bottom. There’s just a lot of rope to be aware of.”
Some fishermen have knives sewn into their gear, so they have a chance to cut themselves free if they do get pulled overboard, she said.
Pesce’s ankle got tangled in a line as the string of traps dropped off the boat’s open transom and sank rapidly.
“He hit the water – the trawl was dragging him down,” said Oppedisano. “I can’t tell you the feeling because I can’t put words to it.”
“Imagine if it was your kid. I’ve known this kid his whole life, since he was a baby. It’s like he was my own,” he said.
His father and Oppedisano grabbed the rope from the string and put it through the power block to begin winching it back to the surface.
Pesce was in the water for three to four minutes before they hoisted him and the tangle of rope out of the water, suspended from the block.
“His foot was tangled. Once we got him up, we wrapped a rope around him and tied it up so we wouldn’t lose him, then cut the string to free him,” the crewman said.
They laid him on the deck. He had inhaled water and wasn’t breathing.
“He was dead,” Oppedisano said. “More than likely I’d say it was partial drowning.” Oppedisano said he and Dan Pesce, both trained in first aid and CPR, immediately started doing chest compressions and rescue breathing “to see if we could bring him back.”
“His eyes came back” showing the first sign of life, Oppedisano said, “Then that salt water and stuff came out of him. He was trying to gasp for breath.
“Once we got some life out of him, we got his wet stuff off and bundled him up,” he said.
They radioed the Coast Guard and headed for the nearest port, Cape Porpoise in Kennebunkport, where an ambulance met them and took Devin Pesce to Southern Maine Health Care. He walked off the boat.
Oppedisano credited his faith, and the young Pesce’s strength.
“I’ve been a strong believer in the lord my whole life. He just works through me,” he said.
“The best thing is, Devin is going to be OK,” he said. “We all did what we had to do to make things the way they are now.”
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: