Lucky for John Ricca and his sailboat passengers that the Buffalo Police Underwater Rescue and Recovery Team was in the Niagara River this evening – and that Buffalo school teacher Angela Vallone decided to take her Jet Ski from the city to a cancer fundraiser in North Tonawanda.
The recovery team and Vallone were on the river about 6 p.m. when the 27-foot sailboat struck a shoal near the Peace Bridge, lurched and started taking on water.
“I knew something was wrong," said Vallone, 32.
Police Capt. Mike McCarthy said he flagged down Vallone and she rode her Jet Ski over to the troubled craft and told Ricca, 76, and his three female passengers to get in the water and get to her craft.
Police Lt. Peter Kocol, a diver on the rescue unit, already was in the water and brought a line toward Vallone’s Jet Ski. The five were then taken back to the recovery team landing craft.
McCarthy, who described Vallone as “terrific” for her life-saving efforts, said the 28-foot landing craft he, Kocol and three other team members were on was unable to get directly to the damaged sailboat because water levels and shoals near the Peace Bridge are too low for the D-Day-style craft to safely navigate.
The craft was on standard duty for the Thursday at the Harbor music performances at Canalside, McCarthy said, and was heading toward the Buffalo Intake Round House in Lake Erie when a “mayday” alert was called into the U.S. Coast Guard from the stricken craft, which was “at a very strange angle in the water.”
McCarthy said Ricca and his passengers – Amanda Zepeda of Buffalo, and Donna Fraser and Michelle Zimmerman, both of Gasport – were taken in the police landing craft to the RCA Marina off Fuhrmann Boulevard, where Coast Guard personnel took information from Ricca that the boater’s insurance company will need to deal with the boat mishap.
Erie County sheriff’s water rescue personnel also assisted in the rescue, McCarthy said.