A paraplegic boater from Biddeford is being called a hero for saving lives after his 24-foot motorboat capsized off Cape Porpoise last week with three passengers aboard.

Nicholas Masi, 45, calmly radioed a distress call from his wheelchair with complete information about his position as his boat capsized miles from shore, say marine rescue officials.

Although his friend Douglas Isenberg, 40, died, two other friends on board, Richard Werner, 40, and Daricus Hunter, 40, were saved. “He put himself last,” said Louise Hunter, the wife of Daricus Hunter.

The four Biddeford men had headed out Friday morning for some tuna fishing at a spot five miles east of Cape Porpoise, where they had luck earlier in the season, Daricus Hunter said. They were aboard Masi’s boat, Job Site 2.

At first, the seas were calm. They anchored at their fishing spot, but weren’t having much luck fishing. In the afternoon, the seas got choppy, then waves started coming in over the side of the boat, Hunter said.

They decided to leave, but the propeller got caught in the anchor line. They got the line cleared, he said, but then they couldn’t get the boat back in gear.

Four big waves washed into the boat and it started to go down.

“Nick yelled at us to get our survival suits on,” Hunter said.

Masi got on the radio with the Coast Guard, giving out their coordinates. There was no time for Masi to get into a survival suit, but he managed to snag a life jacket near his elbow.

He was still on the radio when a final wave pushed the boat over and all four men were dumped into heaving 5-foot swells.

Hunter said Masi screamed at them to stay together next to the capsized boat. Hunter grabbed onto the boat and locked feet with Werner, who provided a human life raft for Masi.

Isenberg scrambled onto the capsized boat to look for help. They had no idea what to expect, Hunter said.

About 30 minutes later, the Lady Erika, a 54-foot motor yacht built by Sabre Yachts of South Casco, arrived. The yacht was on its maiden voyage, heading to New Bedford, Mass., with the new owners, Sabre’s Chief Operating Officer Aaron Crawford and his wife, Sarah, and an electronics specialist.

“We were meant to be there,” Sarah Crawford said.

The Lady Erika was three miles away when the distress call came in. Crawford said it was fortunate that Masi was composed enough to call in his location, and that there was an electronics specialist aboard the Lady Erika who was able to guide them right to the capsized boat.

The people on the Lady Erika couldn’t get close enough to the men to safely throw them lines, so Isenberg and Werner set out to swim to the yacht, with Masi between them.

First, they heaved Masi up onto the Lady Erika’s swim platform while the people on board hauled him in. Then they went to pull Werner into the yacht while Isenberg stayed in the water.

“He seemed like he was very patiently hanging out next to the boat,” said Sarah Crawford, a lifelong sailor.

She turned her head to attend to Masi and Werner, and turned back again to see Aaron Crawford jump into the water after Isenberg, who was face-down. Isenberg wasn’t breathing when they got him on board.

They began CPR, and were still trying to revive Isenberg when a crew on a Coast Guard cutter arrived and took over.

Isenberg couldn’t be revived. The cause of his death has yet to be determined.

The Miss Conduct, a lobster boat, picked up Hunter, who was with the capsized boat. All three survivors were treated for hypothermia, Hunter said.

Marine Patrol Sgt. Rob Beal praised Masi for putting his friends before his own safety. “Pretty unbelievable,” Beal said.

He said Masi even had the presence of mind to attach his $5,000 wheelchair to a soccer ball to try to keep it afloat, but it hasn’t been located. The boat, which Masi bought this year, was recovered Saturday.

A former contractor, Masi was paralyzed in a construction accident a few years ago, Hunter said. They had been best friends since childhood, and Isenberg was living with Masi after being laid off from his job recently.

Masi could not be reached for comment Monday. But he told The Associated Press that even though he was able to help keep people alive, it’s not much consolation after the death of his friend.

“I hear they’re calling me a hero, but my best friend is gone,” he said.

Hunter said the survivors are still trying to come to terms with the death of Isenberg, who lost his 17-year-old son, Joseph, of Westford, Mass., in a skateboarding accident in Maine a couple of weeks ago.

“Doug should be here right with us,” said Hunter. “It wasn’t as if he was alone or had drifted away.”

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: [email protected]