Helicopter crew that carried out rescue on Passaic River in New Jersey speaks out

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Thursday, June 29, 2023
Successful water rescure in Passaic River; hearing from the first responders
The first responders that pulled off the dramatic water rescue at the Passaic River told us how they did it

CLIFTON, New Jersey (WABC) -- The New Jersey State Trooper helicopter crew that hoisted first responders from the Passaic River Wednesday in dramatic fashion spoke out Thursday.

Trooper Shamik Songui said it was his first ever rapid water rescue but he was fearless hanging down from the chopper trying to pull two Clifton firefighters out of their partially sunken rescue boat.

"The first one definitely felt a little bit easier. The second one was more challenging, but once the pilot figured out the situation, it was pretty easy," Songui said.

It all began when a boat with a small team of contractors working on a construction project upstream along the Dundee Dam Falls got disconnected from another boat and drifted, getting stuck teetering on the edge of the falls.

That's when the Clifton Fire Department was called in, but the swift current of the Passaic River proved treacherous even for the rescue team.

"We went out there with our boat and attempted to rescue them," Clifton Mayor Raymond Grabowski said. "Our rescue boat went over the falls with our men in it and was submerged."

The two firefighters in it had successfully rescued the workers, but now they themselves needed to be rescued from their partially submerged boat.

Songui said rescuing the first firefighter went smoothly, but the second was more difficult because he was swinging like a pendulum back and forth waiting for the right approach.

He was being aided by Sgt. Jason Jorgensen who controlled the hoist and made sure the pilot put Songui in the right place.

"I'm trying to guide or tell the pilot what to do, to get the rescuer into the boat on the ground. So it's a pretty hair-raising event," Jorgensen said.

They are an elite unit that practices these operations monthly and there were a lot of obstacles to consider when making a rescue like the one that played out live on Eyewitness News.

The pilot, Lt. Enrique Villa, said the second hoist operation took two attempts.

"Our second hoist, it didn't go to plan like the first one. We were able to fix it with our training and on the third loop come in. So we were just happy to that we were able to reach them and it didn't turn into anything worse," Villa said.

Everyone involved escaped uninjured.


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