A 19-year-old New Jersey man spent the night clinging to a large buoy and wishing on shooting stars after a hard fall in Brooklyn made his WaveRunner break down and take on water, the man said from a hospital Wednesday where he has been treated since his rescue.
"I don't know what it was but I saw four or five shooting stars that night and I prayed and wished on every single one and I just hoped someone would find me," Dylan Gowan said. "I've got more to live for than dying on a buoy."
Gowan said he and a friend were using WaveRunners off their beach in Highland Tuesday when his friend decided to go to Brooklyn. The friend ran out of gas, so Gowan went to get him by car -- then went to take the WaveRunner back to the Highlands around 6:30 p.m.
As he was riding the waves, Gowan said he went up on a particularly big one and came down hard. He fell into the water; at the time he didn't think anything was wrong with the WaveRunner but he said he noticed it was starting to break down. When he lifted up the backseat, there was water inside.
Gowan said he realized it was going to sink off the coast of Sandy Hook.
"He took his clothes off, took his vest off, because you can't swim in those vests, and he started swimming for a buoy," his mother, Kelly Gowan, said her son told her.
Gowan, who left his lifejacket on the sinking WaveRunner, said he tried to swim to shore but the current was too strong. He swam to a crabbing buoy to catch his breath, then found his way to a larger tower with a light and clung to that.
His family reported him missing around 11 p.m. and an extensive search followed. After awhile, Gowan said he saw search and rescue crews.
"I started seeing Coast Guard and boats and everything but it seemed like they were going in the other direction," Gowan said.
He said he tried to scream and yell for the rescuers, but they couldn't hear him. He gave up for the night, camped out on the buoy and tried to shield himself from the elements as best he could.
As soon as he saw the next day's first light, Gowan said he launched himself into the water and started heading for shore again. After about 25 to 30 minutes of swimming, he says he saw rescue crews combing the water looking for him once again.
"I started yelling, screaming at the top of my lungs, I smile, I was happy I started waving my arms, making as much splashing as possible," Gowan said.
Gowan said the Coast Guard crew he managed to flag down was heading back into the station to get gas before he caught them.
The Coast Guard said he was rescued about a half mile from land; it appeared his WaveRunner had hit a submerged object or a rock.
"I was just so afraid that I'd never see him again," his mother Kelly Gowan said. "Everybody stood with us all night long."
Gowan was dehydrated and showed signs of hypothermia, Coast Guard officials said, but he was conscious and responsive when he was rescued. His family was waiting for him when he got to the ambulance and went with him to the hospital.
"I just jumped in the ambulance and I jumped on him and I told him I loved him," Kelly Gowan said. She said her son just cried.
"I just want to hug him and love him and count my blessings," she added.
Hospital officials say he will be held overnight Wednesday so they can monitor his electrolytes and vital signs. He is listed in stable condition.
Gowan said he grew up on the water so never thought he'd have any problems with it. But, he said, his experience is proof it "can happen to anyone."