A pair of Navy divers were in the right place at the right time on March 23 when they witnessed a Jeep Cherokee careen off the road near Rockport, Maine, and into Chickawaukie Lake.
Navy Diver Third Class Thomas Parhiala, of Salem, New Hampshire, and Navy Diver Third Class John McLeod, of Wiscasset, Maine, were on a quick trip to McLeod’s hometown to pick up his motorcycle when they saw the Jeep suddenly swerve off the highway.
“It was getting dark and it was one of those surreal experiences as we both saw the Cherokee go into the water about 400 yards in front of us,” Parhiala, who was driving, told Navy Times. “We both kind of looked at each other and saId ‘did you see that?’”
Nothing more needed to be said. The men stopped the vehicle, ran down the sharp 20-foot embankment and went headfirst into the water, swimming out to the vehicle.
“The vehicle was in the water and sinking, but the passenger window was either open or gone and the driver was just floating between the front seat and back seat,” Parhiala said
While pulling the man from the vehicle, the sailors looked around to make sure there weren't others who needed help.
“He started to come to, so I started screaming at him asking if anyone else was in there,” McLeod said.
Both recalled the driver, Jonathan Marr, 35, of Thomaston, Maine, saying “no.” But to be sure, Parhiala stayed to take a look around. McLeod, meanwhile, swam Marr to shore.
The rescue only took a few minutes from start to finish, but by the time they were back on shore, additional motorists had stopped and someone had called for help.
Neither have met or talked to Mann since the incident, and the divers say they don’t believe they did anything special. Their first priority was taking care of the driver, they said, then getting themselves warm.
“We just did what had to be done,” Parhiala said. “It wasn’t anything special, we just happened to be the first ones on the scene.”
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.