NORWALK, Connecticut - A Huntington man who was stranded in the Long Island Sound was rescued after 17 harrowing hours over the weekend.
Authorities say 56-year-old Michael Diaz went fishing in a kayak off Lloyd Harbor Village Park Saturday morning, and it wasn't until the next day that he was reported missing by his roommate after he failed to return home.
A massive search effort was launched, and Suffolk County Marine Bureau Officers found Diaz clinging to the rocks outside a lighthouse near Norwalk, Connecticut, around noon Sunday. He told him his kayak had capsized around 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
"It's my favorite lighthouse now," he said.
Diaz is laughing Monday in his hospital room, but he knows how lucky he was. He was fishing just a short distance from the beach in Lloyd Neck when his kayak began taking on water. He tried to make it to shore, but the winds and seas were too much.
"The tide and the winds wreak havoc on a kayak," he said.
Soon, the kayak would sink, leaving Diaz floating with only his life preserver to keep him from sinking.
"I could see the pebbles on the beach, and that was the maddening part about it," he said. "I was so close, but that tide keeps pushing you back out."
He spent all of Saturday night floating in the middle of the Sound, unable to call for help because his cellphone was dead and unable swim against the tide toward either Connecticut or Long Island. All the while, he tried unsuccessfully to signal to the occasional passing boat and, at one point, he was nearly run over by one.
"Those swells were so big, way over my head," he said. "So boats just couldn't see me in the water."
He was finally able to reach Greens Ledge Lighthouse, off the coast of the Norwalk Islands, around 11:30 a.m. Sunday. He was rescued when a passing boater called the Coast Guard. Diaz said he never lost hope, and he is grateful to the searchers.
"Even though I was alone on the water, I really wasn't," he said.
He has been kayaking for more than a decade and is adamant about wearing his life preserver. Without it, he is convinced he would not have survived. He is being treated for hypothermia and exhaustion and is expected to be released later this week.
"Keep your wits, the odds are you're going to be found," he said. "It may take a while but don't panic. Do not panic."
At the time of the rescue, there was a small craft advisory in effect with water temperatures at approximately 68 degrees.