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Coast Guard recognizes Cape Henlopen crew for July 19 rescue near Plum Island

The Cape Henlopen was making its last trip from Orient Point to New London the night of July 19, when crew members noticed a flashing light coming from across the water.

Captain Mike Ward radioed to the passengers aboard the ferry that he would be taking “a little detour” to check something out.

As they approached, he and the crew saw a 30-foot power boat taking on water with five passengers aboard north of Plum Island. Ward tried to call them on the marine radio but got no response.

Ward positioned the ferry close to the sinking boat and shined a spotlight on it, as the crew launched a lifeboat. They rescued all five people, who were wearing life jackets, and brought them aboard the ferry safely as passengers clapped and cheered them on.

The rescue was over in a matter of 15 minutes, Ward said, adding that they were fortunate to have good weather that night. The forecast at one point had called for fog, he said.

Ward and eight crew members on the ferry, operated by Cross Sound Ferry, were recognized Friday by the Coast Guard for their efforts. The crew members included Scott Ballroom, Gerald Flanders, Stephen Godfrey, Justin Jarmolowicz, Jason Lebel, James Payton, Brian Watson and Nikolaus VonHalem.

Ward said regular training, including drilling with the Coast Guard, enabled the crew to spring into action “without even a second thought."

"I'm grateful it turned out the way it did," he said.

While search and rescue is one of the Coast Guard’s main missions, the service relies on its maritime partners, including ferries such as the Cape Henlopen, to help in these situations, Capt. Eva Van Camp, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, said during the brief ceremony aboard the ferry Friday.

In an interview before Friday’s ceremony, Ward said he is “humbled and honored” to receive the award from the Coast Guard “because they do this stuff every day.”

Ward said he never spoke with the five people rescued, who did not require medical attention and who managed to find a ride home with one of the passengers aboard the ferry. Flanders, one of the crew members who launched the lifeboat, said those who were rescued were very grateful for the crew's efforts and even bought drinks for some of the ferry passengers and recounted their story.

The boat, which ended up near Fishers Island, was salvaged the next day, and given there was no threat of pollution, the Coast Guard did not investigate the incident, spokesman Ensign Collin Reichelt said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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