Crews rescue man clinging to limb in Elkhart River

February 16, 2019

A 54-year-old Wawaka man hanging on to a limb over the Elkhart River was rescued by Noble County emergency personnel around noon Friday.

Leaun “Butch” Vanhook was attempting to save the family dog, which was in the river just behind his home, according to a news release from the Noble County Sheriff’s Department.

Vanhook’s wife called 911 to say her husband was trying to retrieve the dog.

When a dispatcher said her husband should not go on to the ice, she told them he was in the river, holding on to a limb.

First responders threw ropes to Vanhook, but he could not grab hold of the ropes because of the river’s current and water temperature. A sheriff’s department drone attempted to drop a life jacket to Vanhook, but the wind and current made it too difficult.

The Ligonier Fire Department then deployed its water rescue team to save Vanhook.

With the water rescue team tied to the shore, members were able to place equipment around Vanhook and pull him to safety.

Vanhook was flown to a hospital by the Parkview Samaritan helicopter and later released, the release said.

Cooperating agencies included the Noble County Sheriff’s Department, Ligonier Police, Department, Department of Natural Resources, Sparta Township Fire Department and the Ligonier Fire Department.

The dog swam to his own rescue, Weber said.

“When you go out on to the ice, it’s very dangerous with the freezing and thawing; you’ve just got to be careful. We’re very thankful we were able to get out there and help him,” Noble County Sheriff Max Weber said.

“That ice was so thin out on the river. It’s different than a lake. Depending on the speed of the river, it doesn’t always freeze over solid. It’s just an unknown when you walk out there.”