Plymouth High grad in Coast Guard hunt for killer shark

Rich Harbert

Steve Maccaferri grew up swimming off Long Beach and in Long Pond, but had to relearn his strokes from scratch to find his calling in the water.

When Maccaferri joined the U.S. Coast Guard five years ago, he had to put aside what he knew about staying afloat in the water as a boy before he could learn to survive in it as a man.

Now one of the rescue swimmers who plunge into the ocean to save distressed boaters in some of the worst conditions imaginable, Maccaferri has found his niche in 20-foot swells.

Network news junkies got a surprise glimpse of Maccaferri’s work as a rescue swimmer this week, when Good Morning America featured his helicopter crew hunting for a killer shark off San Diego.

Maccaferri, who routinely jumps into the ocean for rescue operations, told the ABC news crew the deadly attack on a 66-year-old swimmer was a sharp reminder to be prepared for anything.

“You can only go through what you’d do in that situation,” Maccaferri told the news crew.

A 2001 graduate of Plymouth South High School, Maccaferri is in the second year of a four-year tour of duty stationed out of a Coast Guard base in San Diego. Known as “Station Vacation” for its pleasant weather, the base keeps 10 rescue swimmers on 24-hour rotating shifts.

Maccaferri spent his first two years doing basic duty before getting the chance to train as a rescue swimmer. He was on his way to Antarctica aboard an icebreaker when orders arrived sending him to rescue training in the volatile surf off the coast of Oregon. A course of formal training followed off the coast of North Carolina.

“I struggled at first, but the program breaks you down then builds you up from scratch, like a clean slate,” Maccaferri said. “They taught me how to swim and have confidence in the water. We leaned how to survive in big waves and built confidence to survive in any conditions.”

One of the keys to the job is learning how to time your leaps, he explained. In rough seas, a 20-foot jump into the water can become a very unfriendly 40-foot plunge if you hit a trough rather than the crest of a wave. Either way, it’s quite an adrenaline rush, Maccaferri said.

His crew was one of several that flew out in search on the shark that killed last Friday. The attack, he said, was a classic case of mistaken identity. The shark clearly mistook the swimmer for a seal.

“It’s definitely not a Jaws-type thing, where there’s a shark hunting humans,” Maccaferri said. Still the danger exists for anyone who frequents the water.

“It’s one of those things you have to realize when you enter the ocean. Just because you can’t see them, it does not mean they are not there. It’s in your head, but you push it back and try not to think about it. If something scares you like that, maybe rescue is not for you,” he said.

Maccaferri, who attended classes at the University of New Hampshire for two years before joining the Coast Guard, said he hopes to return to school and complete his degree. But he is also happy working as a rescue swimmer and expects to make a career in the Coast Guard.

Maccaferri would eventually like to be stationed with his older brother, Lt. Dave Maccaferri, a 1998 Plymouth South grad and helicopter pilot now stationed out of Hawaii.

“I think it would be a lot of fun. I’d love to be able to fly with him. Of course, since he’s the pilot, he might take out some childhood grudges on me,” Steve said.

Steve and Dave are the sons of David Maccaferri of Plymouth and Barbara Anderson of Plymouth.