Rafters rescued from swift flowing Shoshone River
CODY, Wyo. (AP) — The Shoshone River was flowing at roughly 8,000 cubic feet per second a mile upriver from the Corbett Dam when the last of three raft occupants was plucked from its grip by Park County Search and Rescue on Saturday afternoon.
The three floaters missed the take-out spot and got spilled into the water, and though none suffered serious injury they all reportedly left the river battered, bleeding and close to shock.
All three rafters were wearing life jackets.
The dam “is pretty much a drowning machine,” SAR water rescue team leader Bill Brown said Monday, so there wasn’t much margin of error in the operation.
Fortunately, Brown said, SAR members were already at the Cody SAR station when their pagers alerted them to the situation on the river.
Within minutes, Brown and fellow SAR members Jeremy Mann, Robert Lind, Greg Blessing and Wesley Livingston were suited up in wet suits and launching their pair of rescue boats from the Corbett Bridge boat launch the rafters had missed.
Rob Ward, a guide with River Runners, said it was his outfit that put in the SAR call at 2:17 p.m.
The raft in crisis was being operated by another local guiding company.
The only reason River Runners guides were on the scene was they had missed the take-out themselves, Ward said.
He said it was only the second time his company had missed the take-out in 23 years, adding, “I believe we missed the take-out for a reason,” and that reason was to come across the trio in the water.
“We were just in the process of getting our boat out. That’s when we heard the screaming coming from the middle of the river,” Ward said.
One rafter was floating free near the boat, while two others were clutching the sides of the raft as they were being swept downstream.
“We had people in the water. We had to get them out,” Ward told the Cody Enterprise.
He started tossing a 70-foot-long rope to try and reach the nearest floater, while another member of the River Runners called SAR. The rope wasn’t long enough to reach the stranded rafter, however.
“We kept shouting out at them to try and swim to shore,” Ward said. “We didn’t know if they had heard us, because it’s so loud out there.”
With the river fueled mainly with snow melt, Ward said it was critical to get the boaters out of the water fast.
Apparently at least one of the raft occupants, a young woman, heard Ward and others’ shouts.
She was able to battle her way to a thicket of Russian Olive trees, Ward said, and she clung to brush as Ward and others fought their way through brush of their own on the shoreline.
As for the other two, the river “was moving so fast, they were gone,” Ward said.
“We all got cut up pretty good trying to get to (the young woman),” Ward said. He added he wouldn’t feel those scrapes until hours later though, as he was totally focused on the scene on the river banks.
When the rescuers got to the woman “she was barely hanging on to that sucker,” Ward said.
The woman “wasn’t doing good,” he added, saying she was in shock and would later get transported to the hospital to be evaluated.
“I’m really happy we were down there,” Ward said. When the river’s moving this fast, he added, “everybody needs to help everybody.”
By the time he and the others reached the woman, sirens were in the air, Ward said.
“SAR got there really fast,” he added.
A Park County Sheriff’s news release states that further downstream the second raft occupant was also able to stay with the raft and paddle with it to shore.
That left one 16-year-old boy in the water.
SAR members arrived on the scene, and the boy was able to help himself out too, fighting his way to a tree trunk on an island that had been submerged by the river.
“Water is cruising right now and it’s really cold too,” Brown said. “How he got into that tree was a miracle of God.”
The boy was able to stand on the trunk only shin-deep in the water, Brown said.
“I heard his feet were pretty cut up,” Brown said.
A rescue pontoon and a spotter boat were both launched from the Corbett Bridge ramp, and a half mile down stream the team spotted the boy.
An eight-year veteran of the SAR team, Brown said “We never do anything by ourselves - it’s always in pairs.”
Mann was manning the spotter boat, Brown said, a craft designed to move nimbly in the water.
Typically in a rescue, Mann would relay information to the rescue pontoon with hand signals as the larger craft moved into position to secure the person in danger.
In this case, though, it was Mann who ended up loading the victim onto his small boat, Brown said.
The platform the boy crawled onto on Mann’s craft “is usually for cargo, but we didn’t really have a choice,” Brown said.
The boy was taken to shore, and then loaded into a waiting ambulance where he was transported to West Park Hospital and treated for minor cuts, bruises and exposure.
Brown said the river conditions were about as dangerous as they can get, flowing at rates unseen for several years.
“Almost every inch of the river bank is strainers (log jams of flotsam),” he added, making shore maneuvering difficult as well. “Thankfully (the boy) had a life jacket on at least.”
Brown said all of the team’s attention had been focused on the rescue and he didn’t know how long it took.
The high, fast water likely contributed to the issues, including missing the launch, which Ward said is a rarity, but not unheard of when the river’s flowing at 8,000 cfs (226 cms).
“You’re moving way quicker than normal, so your reaction time is that much less,” he said.
The River Runner crew “just went into guide mode,” he said.
Meanwhile, Brown and the others went into SAR-mode, and three lives were saved.
Information from: The Cody Enterprise, http://www.codyenterprise.com