NORTH TONAWANDA – When Daryl Truty thinks back on it now, just three or four minutes went by between the calls for help and his rescue of the drowning man he has never seen or heard from again.
As he told the story of jumping into the swift current of the Little River branch of the Niagara River, it seemed like it all lasted a slow 15 minutes.
“He was struggling to stay up. He was going under for a second at a time,” Truty said, relating what he remembers of that afternoon last July.
“He would go down and pop back up briefly. He wasn’t able to stay above water.”
Truty had been on vacation, taking his boat out to fix the propeller, when he heard the cries and jumped in the water to make the rescue along with two other men who were nearby.
In the months that have gone by since, news of what happened percolated through local civic clubs. This year, his daring led them to surprise him with commendations, which included a city proclamation “for the dedication and zeal he has demonstrated for his lifesaving ‘Selfless act of Heroism.’ ”
He started to help when a friend of the drowning man called out from a cement bridge piling he managed to climb up on.
Soon Truty and his friend were in life jackets holding onto the man and the edge of an inflatable dingy that Tim Trimper, who also heard the cries, had motored over in from Smith Boys Marina.
“That was that guy’s lucky day, because there was nobody else around except for us,” said Jim Maloney, Truty’s friend and manager of the River Oaks Marina on Grand Island. “If he lives to 80 years, he’s there because three people he didn’t know decided they were going to do something.”
So you threw a first, then a second, “rescue” pillow into the water before you jumped?
I almost hit him with it. I believe he was semiconscious because he didn’t know what was going on. He made no attempt to grab it.
Jim put the life jacket on. He jumped in off the bat. The wind was blowing ... He was getting too far away for us to catch up to him.
The guy in the dingy managed to grab onto the drowning man?
They were basically free-floating on the channel.
You swam to the raft as the boater was saying he didn’t have the strength to keep holding the man?
We met up kind of at the same time ...
So then I was holding on to the kid in the water. Jim Maloney finally caught up to us at that point, swimming. I was holding onto one of the ropes as I was holding onto him. Once Jim Maloney came, we decided that we would push him onto the boat. Somehow we communicated to each other that we needed to get him into the boat. We grabbed onto him and pushed him into the boat ...
The boat couldn’t have been more than eight feet long. It’s just a small inflatable with a motor on it.
Were you afraid?
What was going on in my head was what I had to do. That was probably more job-related. I don’t think I thought about the dangers of what we were doing until it was all over.
Everything seemed to work out in his favor at that time. I can’t say it wasn’t that dangerous. Any series of events could have happened with the boat propellers. With one of us getting too tired and drowning. Even to this day, I don’t see how much I put myself at risk because I don’t see it as that. When it was all over, to me, it felt like the everyday thing that we do every time I come to work.
Have you done other rescues?
Most of the time we’re not able to be in the position to have made a difference. Because that kid would not have been here today if anything was off by 10 seconds. He had a very little window of time where he probably wouldn’t be here. There was probably less than a minute of time whether or not he was dead or alive.
What do you know about him?
I think he was around 20. I think they were just swimming. I think he tried to swim upstream to get back to where he was, and he got tired.
I thought I heard he was from Rochester. One of the firemen seemed to think he was here with Canal Fest. I believe they transported him to DeGraff.
Was it strange not to hear from him?
I thought somebody would have maybe said something. I guess it is a little surprising never to have heard.
I wouldn’t describe it as disappointing because I wasn’t looking for anything. I’ve obviously received awards for what happened. I wasn’t looking for any awards. They’re very much appreciated.
What did your family think?
My wife ended up seeing all the fire engines. She was there when I got back. It didn’t surprise her that I was in the middle of it. It isn’t out of the ordinary. I seem to end up in the middle of things.
What do you mean?
Probably six years ago, I went in water after somebody else before that was trying to avoid the police. He was trying to avoid arrest, and he jumped in the water. Almost the same exact spot. That’s why it didn’t surprise her.
We always had a pool. We’ve always had a boat. I grew up around the water. I’m not afraid to go in the water.
Everybody’s been pretty good about it. I’d prefer to not be in the center of attention.
Hopefully this summer I’ll only have to swim for my personal pleasure.