CANAAN — Derek Ellis was driving into the east entrance of Lake George Regional Park Thursday afternoon when he heard a man yelling for help.

“There’s always kids hooting and hollering in the lake in the summer, so at first I thought nothing of it,” said Ellis, the park manager. “But there was something weird. I heard someone yelling ‘Help!’ The screaming got more frantic and he was saying ‘I can’t swim.'”

Ellis drove past some of the lake staff and instructed them to follow him to the shore of the lake and to call the Somerset County police dispatch center. When they got to the lake, Ellis said he saw a boat full of water and a man yelling that he couldn’t swim.

The life jackets from the boat were floating away and he yelled to the man to hold on to a seat cushion from the boat while he grabbed a kayak paddle, jumped in a canoe, and paddled out to the sinking boat.

“He was completely in shock and thought he was dying,” said Ellis. “I just kept talking to him to calm him down and put a life jacket on him that I brought out.”

He tied the smaller boat, a 12-foot aluminum boat, to his and towed it to shore.

“I told him that if he stayed in the middle of the boat and didn’t move he would be okay,” said Ellis. “Even if a boat is sinking it won’t go completely under for a while, unless you turn it over. I held on to it and just slowly and steadily pulled all of it to shore.”

Once he had caught his breath on shore and been checked over by emergency medical crews, Clarence Tuttle, 58, of Canaan, said he was grateful to Ellis and the lake staff for saving his life.

“My life went by me,” said Tuttle. “I thank God for this gentleman and the staff, because I think I would have drowned out there.”

Tuttle, who said he inherited the boat from his father-in-law and just refurbished it, was taking it out on the lake for the first time Thursday afternoon. He wasn’t sure what caused it to sink but was quickly concerned because he can’t swim and was about 200 yards from shore. He wasn’t wearing a life jacket, though there were some in the boat.

“I was letting it just idle along and I looked down and there was water all around my feet,” he said. “The boat was absolutely level with the water. I thought it would sink immediately, but it didn’t. They came booking.”

Warden Chris Roy of the Maine Warden Service said that the cause of the accident appeared to be a wave that washed over the boat.

“There were no injuries or damage to the boat,” he said. “It sounds like a wave came over the boat and when that happened he gunned the motor, which caused more water to come in.”

Ellis, who is also a registered Maine Guide, took over as the manager of the park in June 2013.

“It was definitely a team effort,” he said. “Without the staff to help me I wouldn’t have been able to get there fast enough. He would have died— he really had written it off.”

The Canaan Fire Department also responded.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

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