FDNY Firefighter Saved at Sea

A perfect day for windsurfing turned nearly fatal for a Brooklyn firefighter, who spent 90 minutes in frigid waters yesterday after being swept out to sea clinging to his board and broken sail.

Lt. Charles Marshall, an eight-year FDNY veteran, left from Breezy Point at the western tip of the Rockaway peninsula shortly before 2 p.m., police sources said.

But the firefighter was separated from his two companions off the Breezy Point jetty.

"Things were going fine until the wind died," an exhausted Marshall said from his home yesterday evening. "In the beginning it was annoying, but as I got further and further out it was scary."

His friends called 911 when he did not return. From the water, Marshall could hear the alarm sound.

The NYPD's Air Sea Rescue team conducted a helicopter grid search of the surrounding 15-mile area.

"I watched them searching for me and I thought, 'I'm not going to make it back to the jetty,' " said Marshall, 41. "I thought I was going to have to swim to Staten Island."

A rescue team found the struggling firefighter five miles from the Breezy Point jetty.

"I saw his board and sail, and I saw he was trying to flash us," said Helicopter 19 pilot Erin Nolan, who picked out the struggling firefighter.

"He made it easy for us to see him," she said.

The chopper hovered two to three feet over Marshall, and two divers jumped in to pull him out of the ocean.

Rescue-crew members said only Marshall's strong physique and top-notch equipment kept him alive.

"His sail had broken while he was drifting. He was only able to hold onto the board, which takes a lot of strength," said diver George Sichler.

"The dry suit he wore saved his life. I don't think he would have made it with a wet suit," he said.

Rescue-team staff estimated that in 50-degree air temperature - close to yesterday's mid-afternoon reading - a 50-year-old man has only a 50 percent chance of surviving for 50 minutes.

The firefighter, who works at Engine 279 in Brooklyn, lives in Sheepshead Bay with his wife and two children.

He was taken to Beth Israel Medical Center on Kings Highway because his core temperature was low, but was sent home a few hours later.