Scenes along Westport’s shoreline Wednesday during mass search-and-rescue operations after two racing sculls and a chase boat from Saugatuck Rowing Club capsized. / Photos, Westport Fire Department

By John Schwing

WESTPORT — Two rowers hospitalized after they and 17 others plunged into frigid Long Island Sound when two racing sculls capsized off Cockenoe Island on Wednesday, have been released from treatment, police said Thursday morning.

They were among a total of 29 people involved in what police called a “chaotic” scene off the local shoreline after two of three sculls with teenaged rowers, launched from the Saugatuck Rowing Club, sank during practice off the local shoreline when weather conditions unexpectedly changed for the worse late Wednesday afternoon.

In addition to the 19 rowers thrown from their watercraft, 10 others, including a coach, managed to remain afloat, police Lt. Eric Woods said. However, one of the club’s two chase boats at the scene also sank from the weight of rowers clinging to it.

Emergency-services personnel dispatched to the Compo area shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday found what was described as “a chaotic scene of youths swimming to shore, arriving by boat and some still in the water near Cockenoe Island,” according to a police statement.

The two rowers were treated at Norwalk Hospital for possible hypothermia. Water temperature at the time was about 44 degrees, police said, while the air temperature was approximately 40 degrees.

As of Thursday morning, police said, one of the capsized racing sculls had yet to be recovered and remains missing. The two others were brought back to shore at the Compo Marina.

The chase boat that sank near Cockenoe Island was expected to be recovered sometime Thursday. That operation, however, was suspended because of weather conditions and “erroneous location information,” police said.

An investigation will focus on what extent weather conditions may have played in the incident, as well as “available life jackets, experience of the rowers and coaches and suitability of the vessels,” police said Thursday.

Messages left by the Westport Journal with the Saugatuck Rowing Club and publicists for its programs, seeking comment on the incident, were not returned Thursday.

A message also was left with the Police Division of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which oversees enforcement of state regulations on boating.

In response, a DEEP spokesman told the Journal that racing sculls and similar competitive watercraft are exempt from the safety requirement that personal flotation devices be provided for people aboard recreational vessels.

It was not immediately clear if the rowers were wearing life jackets or flotation devices, or if that gear may have been aboard the accompanying chase boat.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas is committed to helping “prevent this from happening again and we feel this investigation will aid in that mission,” the Thursday statement from police said.

Tragedy was averted by the mass-casualty response to the incident organized by Westport’s frontline emergency responders, including police, fire and emergency-medical personnel. They were supported by police boats and marine divisions from Fairfield, Norwalk, Stamford and Noroton, the Coast Guard and EMS crews from Norwalk Hospital, American Medical Response and Darien.