BELFAST — One second he saw her, the next she was gone.
That’s what Charles Sawyer said he saw of Shirley Hayward out of the corner of his eye as he brought his car to a stop on the Belfast Harbor pier early Monday afternoon for a quick look at the view.
A short time later, ambulance drivers were whisking the 61-year-old Hayward to Waldo County Hospital after she was pulled from the frigid waters. The Belfast resident quite probably would be dead had Sawyer not arrived when he did. She was in stable condition Tuesday evening.
Sawyer, who lives in Lamoine and was returning there from Augusta, made a detour into downtown Belfast to have a look around. He drove down Main Street toward the harbor pier and about 2 p.m. pulled into a parking space overlooking the water.
As he came to a stop there, he noticed the figure of a woman to his left walking up a nearby gangway that led down to a small float. Seconds later he looked again and was struck by the fact that the woman was nowhere to be seen.
Sawyer said he backed his car up and moved it to the parking space nearest the gangway. When he got out to look down into the water, he saw Hayward struggling there. Sawyer ran to the harbor master’s office about 100 feet away and asked Kathy Messier, the harbor master, for help.
With a life buoy in hand, they ran down the gangway, which sloped at a 45-degree angle and has a 3-foot guardrail on each side. The gangway is about 15 feet above the water at the highest point, which appears to be the point at which Hayward fell.
“She was getting blue by the time we got her out,” Messier said later. Hayward was conscious, she said.
No one is yet sure how or why Hayward ended up in the water, but the gangway, like most of the sidewalks throughout the city, was extremely slippery with the freezing rain that had fallen all morning. Sawyer said he thought she could have slipped while walking up the gangway, then pivoted on her leg or hip on the railing.
The plunge left Hayward in deep water and in a spot that left her with nothing to pull herself out of the water. The wooden beams supporting the pier were nearby, but appeared also to be slick with ice.
As police, emergency personnel and onlookers cleared out soon after Hayward was driven away, Sawyer was left alone again on the pier. A gray-haired and slightly built man, he stood there, looking at the gangway, just then comprehending the part he’d played in saving a life.
“If I hadn’t been here, she’d be gone,” he said in a near whisper.