May 05. 2013 10:04PM

Ex-Manchester officer recalls beach rescue at Hampton jetty

Union Leader Correspondent

Ken Murby held onto one of these iron bars when he rescued two men last week who were knocked off the jetty by a wave at Hampton Beach. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)

HAMPTON - Ken Murby knows just how dangerous it can be when the ocean water rises quickly and waves begin crashing over the jetty at the south end of Hampton Beach State Park.

"When it's bad here," he said, "it's bad."

Murby, the manager of Hampton Beach State Park South, was reminded of the threat posed by an angry sea last week when two young men were knocked off the jetty and tossed into the chilly water.

But as a retired officer who spent 27 years on the Manchester police force, Murby didn't fear for his own safety when he rushed out onto the water-covered jetty to save the men.

"I was a cop for so long. You just think about helping people. You can't leave them," he said. "You do what you can."

It was around 5:20 p.m. on May 1 when someone camping at the park spotted two young men who appeared to be in trouble.

The camper found Murby, who was having coffee with Karen Dyment, manager of the RV campground at the state park. They both rushed over to the jetty to see what was wrong, and with his binoculars, Murby could see that the two needed help.

It was an unusually high tide and waves were washing over the jetty. The men were about 150 yards out on the jetty when they were thrown off.

Murby met up with one of their friends, who was safely at the beginning of the jetty. The friend told Murby that he felt he couldn't help them.

Emergency crews were notified as Murby began racing down the jetty, which was mostly under water.

"I scrambled out there as quickly as I could. On the way I started securing stuff in my pockets and my jacket," Murby recalled.

When he finally reached them, Murby said one of the men was wedged in the rocks and was trying to help his friend, who was in the water and struggling to hold onto a rock as the waves pounded him.

"It was apparent to me that I had to do something," Murby said. "The waves just kept coming over. It was quite a hazardous situation."

While gripping an iron bar sticking out from the top of the jetty to keep from floating away, Murby ended up in chest-deep water as he dragged the man in the water to safety. At one point, he could no longer feel the rocks under his feet.

"I told them to hang onto my legs," said Murby, who pulled both men up onto the rocks on top of the jetty.

Murby then saw Hampton police Officers Robert Turcotte and Andrew Jowett coming down the jetty to help.

Jowett ended up carrying the more seriously injured man, who appeared to be hypothermic, over his back as he brought him to safety at the end of the jetty. The other man walked out on his own.

"We all were soaked to the bone," Murby said.

Hampton fire and rescue personnel also arrived and assisted the men at the scene.

"They were pretty banged up," Murby said.

Police said another person was also recovered in the water by a boater and was brought to the state pier to be evaluated by fire personnel.

Officials said last week's incident should serve as a warning for anyone walking on the jetty, especially around the time of high tide.

The tide can rise quickly, they said, and it doesn't take long for waves to begin washing over the jetty.

Hampton Fire Chief Chris Silver also warned of the dangers at the jetty and rip currents at the beach, especially since no lifeguards are on duty until after Memorial Day.

"Anytime anybody comes to the beach they have to understand that when they enter the water they have to consider their own safety," Silver said.

The park is open year-round during the daytime, but officially opens on Memorial Day weekend when the bathhouses and other facilities open for the season.

"The jetty is a little treacherous, especially when the tide is high and there's that wave action," Silver said. "I would not recommend people go out there if they can't swim, especially when the conditions look a little more treacherous. We've seen it where the jetty is just barely visible," Silver said.

Phil Bryce, director of the state's Division of Parks and Recreation, commended Murby for his rescue effort.

"Ken Murby's actions represent the best of the division's staff. His quick and selfless response averted a potential tragedy. We are happy that everyone is OK," Bryce said.