BAYPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Will and Leslie Sullivan are all smiles. Tuesday night, they were anything but happy.
“For three hours I think I was shocked… my heart had stopped beating. When I heard his voice he said ‘I’m alive, I love you, and I’m sorry,’” Leslie said.
The Great South Bay separates Long Island from Fire Island. Around 6:30 p.m. its usual tranquility was transformed.
“It was a lazy day out there. I’m zigging and zagging. All of the sudden this rogue wave just knocked me right off the jet ski,” Will said.
Sullivan tried to chase it down, but the jet ski was taken by the waves and he was two miles from either shore.
“At first it was funny. You kinda laugh and say ‘oh am I a dummy. What did I just do? Now I gotta swim all this way?’ but as I watched the sun set I thought I don’t know if they’ll find me and I don’t know if I can find my way when it gets dark. Then all of the sudden it wasn’t funny anymore.”
What’s worse, the water temperature was in the 50’s and he was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts. In those conditions, hypothermia sets in within 90 minutes at sea.
“My muscles started to lock up. My body was shaking. I was like ‘ok this is getting very serious right now’” Sullivan said.
“At the same time I was getting pummeled with water so as I’m turning to breathe a wave hit me and I think I drank a half-gallon of water.”
Suffolk County police, fire department, and the Coast Guard sent seven boats and a helicopter in search of Will, but the darkness made it impossible.
“I’m yelling and I got my safety whistle and I’m blowing that like crazy… I’m trying to use the light on my phone to signal them, but I couldn’t get through to anybody.”
His phone was in a waterproof bag around his neck. He could see calls, incoming calls.
“If I had taken it out of the case, my luck had already not gone so well and if I lose the phone well then that’s it.”
Exhausted and freezing, his family was also sending him messages, not knowing they were his inspiration.
“I have two beautiful kids and one beautiful wife and I thought to myself not today. If I’m gonna go it’s not today,” Sullivan declared.
Will is a fighter. For the past eight years, he’s been fighting cancer which has taken one eye from him.
“There was one moment out there I was looking up at the big guy and saying ‘I’ve been to hell and back and I’m still here and I’m still standing and there’s no way I’m dying in the middle of the South Bay while jet skiing. That’s not how I’m going.’”
After nearly three hours, he made his way to land where he safely called 911 and was rescued. So was his jet ski.
“Pay attention. No matter how calm it seems or how good you think you are, you’ve got to pay attention because it could go very bad very quickly,” Sullivan warned.
His wife has already reportedly told him he’ll be selling his recovered jet ski by this weekend.