Ithaca Fire Chief Tom Parsons was out for an early morning run on the deck of a vacation cruise ship near Mexico this January when he noticed something in the water.

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It was a man.


“He was swimming, trying to stay up and yell to get someone’s attention,” said Parsons, whose boat had left from the Cayman Islands, in an interview on Thursday.

The boat was moving fast, at about 25 mph, in the other direction. There was only one other person on the deck at the time — around 6:30 a.m. — and that person went looking for help from the crew.

Parsons had to think quickly. He picked up a buoy hanging from the side of the ship and threw it “as hard as I could,” he says.

It wasn’t clear if that one reached the man. So Parsons continued down the ship, picking up two more buoys and throwing them as hard as he could out to the man stranded in the sea about 40 feet below.

The man was able to successfully swim to the first buoy. It wasn’t until the man was later rescued that Parsons learned the man had been stranded for several hours after falling from a different boat.

(Here’s a video taken from later on in the rescue:)

YouTube video

What would have happened had Parsons not happened to spot the man — and then have the presence of mind to throw the buoy?

“I had 10, maybe 12, seconds of opportunity to do what I did,” Parsons said. “You have to think about that: If there’s a belief in God, you have to believe there’s a divine intervention in what happened.”

Parsons responded to an Ithaca Voice request for an interview about the incident and made clear that he wasn’t looking for praise or credit in the rescue. The incident has drawn national media attention for months, but Parsons’ role in it hadn’t been disclosed; in an interview, he repeatedly stressed that he wasn’t seeking the limelight.

“It was a pretty amazing thing, and I played one small part in a miracle of this kid being saved,” he said.

“It was a blessing and I suppose I was supposed to be there when I was.”

File photo of Parsons in City Hall
File photo of Parsons in City Hall

The man lucky enough to be rescued in the Jan. 5 episode was later identified as 22-year-old Frank Jade.

Jade had been a traveler on the Oasis of the Seas cruise ship when he fell off the boat near the coast of Cozumel, Mexico, according to CNN.

He would be in the water for five hours before he was seen by someone on the boat Parsons was on, the Disney Magic, CNN reported.

“He doesn’t remember how he fell,” Cozumel Port Captain Alfonso Rodríguez told CNN of Jade.

After Jade was spotted, Chief Parsons said, the boat proceeded about a half-mile before it was able to get turned around.

Parsons then watched as the crew lowered its doctor and paramedic staff into the rescue boats to rescue the stranded man. The performance from the ship’s crew was “amazing,” he says.

Jade ended up being hospitalized for several days due to hypothermia and other exposure problems. Parsons said he was able to call “good luck” to Jade as the man he helped rescue was getting put into an ambulance.

Parsons had been the first to see the stranded man. But he stressed that the man’s rescue would have been impossible without a team effort that included the ship’s rescue crew.

“Through out my career, I’ve witnessed both miracles and tragedies,” he says.

“On that day, I played just one role — as many others did — that was part of a miracle which no doubt could have turned out be a tragedy.”

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.