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Mercer County Community College Aviation Instructor, Student, Aid in Maritime Rescue

Capsized boat spotted off coast of Sea Isle City during in-flight coursework


WSEA ISLE CITY, NJ – Students in the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Aviation Program are frequently put through the paces of routine scenarios they may face as pilots. But as a training flight session in August aptly demonstrated, they must always expect the unexpected.

On Aug. 19, MCCC Flight Instructor Ryan Sarria, a graduate of the college’s Aviation Program, was flying with Mercer Aviation student Owen Cunningham for a final course progress check, with a lesson plan that called for a cross-country flight. Plans were to fly to Wildwood/Cape May County Airport and then fly the coastline back north and then return to Trenton, when something happened that was not part of the flightplan.

“Flying north off of Sea Isle I was looking out the right side of the aircraft and spotted an overturned sailboat,” Sarria said. “That’s when I took control of the aircraft and we circled back to get a better look.”

What they saw after circling back and descending was what appeared to be a person on one of the sailboat’s pontoons, and that the wind was pushing the capsized craft further out to sea. The sailboat’s operators were yet to get the attention of other vessels in the vicinity, at which point Sarria immediately radioed for help.

“We decided to radio Atlantic City approach controllers and ask if they had a frequency for us to talk to the Coast Guard,” Sarria said. “As we were passing the location off, a state police helicopter asked our position and started their way towards us.”

Sarria said they continued to circle the disabled boat for approximately 35 minutes until a New Jersey State Police (NJSP) helicopter arrived, at which point Sarria and his student climbed to a safe altitude, so as not to interfere with the rescue effort. He would later learn that the NJSP identified two sailors on board, and summoned Sea Isle City lifeguards to the scene via wave runner, who were able to upright the vessel using the wake of their watercraft. The boat and passengers were then able to return to shore.

A message to Sarria from Lt. Michael Donnelly of the NJSP Aviation Bureau reported that the two sailors were safe, unharmed, and able to continue on their way “slightly wetter, but no worse for the wear.”

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About Mercer County Community College
Established in 1966, Mercer County Community College is a publicly supported comprehensive institution that provides opportunities for higher education through an open-door admission policy. The scenic 292-acre West Windsor Campus was opened in 1972 to serve the needs of Mercer County residents. MCCC’s James Kerney Campus, located in downtown Trenton, serves as an educational and cultural hub for city residents that meets the changing needs of thousands of students and community members seeking educational fulfillment and personal and career growth. President: Deborah E. Preston, Ph.D.;


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flight instructor Ryan Sarria

Ryan Sarria, flight instructor for the Mercer County Community College Aviation Program, was supervising a student training session when he spotted a capsized sailboat off the coast of Sea Isle City, N.J., notified authorities, and remained on the scene until they arrived.