Darien officer among those honored for rescue

Public safety officials Wednesday lauded the heroism and bravery of the divers, including a Darien officer, who rescued two people trapped inside the cabin of a boat that had turned over after striking the Stamford Harbor breakwall Sunday night.

The media was invited to Czescik Municipal Marina where a command center was established for crews searching for the body of New Rochelle firefighter Keith Morris, 30, who drowned after running his 27-foot cabin cruiser onto the rocks of the harbor's east breakwall just before 11:22 Sunday night.

After expressing his "deepest sympathies" to Morris' family, Public Safety, Health and Welfare Director Ted Jankowski said, "The divers displayed courage and professionalism, maneuvering through the dark, murky waters and wreckage to enter the confined space in order to save the trapped occupants."

"They put their own lives at risk. If it were not for their actions, the trapped victims would have surely perished. I commend them for their efforts," Jankowski said.

Along with other firefighters and police officers on scene, Stamford Fire & Rescue's firefighter-divers Bill O'Connell and Joe Maida talked about how they made multiple dives into the cabin to move the panicked occupants to safety.

When asked if they felt like heroes, they both shook their heads and Maida said, "We were just doing our job."

Along with Maida and O'Connell, Darien Marine Unit officer Dan Ehret was also singled out for his assistance during the rescue.

Maida said getting through all the debris in order to get into the 18-inch wide entrance of the cabin felt like he was climbing over a jungle gym.

He said the two in the cabin, Dinorah Viaira, 25, and Anthony Basile, 29, were surprisingly calm when he got into the cabin with them. But Viaira balked at leaving the air pocket in the pitch black cabin, afraid that she would not make it. And it took divers almost a half hour to get her out.

Both Maida and O'Connell said the rescue -- with all the physical dangers and psychological complications involved -- was something that they had never trained for. O'Connell, a 10-year department veteran, admitted to being apprehensive during the course of the rescue.

When he first went over the side O'Connell said, "I didn't know what I was getting into."

Two other passengers, Drew Morris, 29, the victim's brother and Kristina Caldararo, 24, were ejected from the boat and rescued by Oyster Bay police who were first on the scene.

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