Press "Enter" to skip to content

DNR rangers survive close call on river

By Walter Geiger Heavy rains lead to heavy runoff and raging rivers and creeks. Despite the danger, people are drawn to the rapidly-moving water. Two teenagers in Oconee County died last week when they ran afoul of a rain-swollen creek and drowned. Local DNR Rangers Keith Page of Barnesville and Cpl. Wil Smith, a native of Milner, survived their own experience with high water May 23. The long day started when a deputy spotted a capsized boat in the Flint River from the Hwy. 128 bridge which connects Crawford and Taylor counties. ‘There had been three days of heavy rain and the river was running high,’ Page reported. Smith got the call for help and alerted Page who picked up a DNR river patrol boat from his residence. Page met Smith at the scene at about 2 p.m. and they donned their swift water gear. A state patrol helicopter was on station above the river to direct them to the capsized craft. ’Our plan was to get to the boat, get the registration number and run it to see if anyone had been onboard when it capsized. We never got to the boat,’ Page recounted. They proceeded about two miles downriver to a point where the river makes a sharp turn to the east. The river was high and they were dodging debris constantly. Suddenly, debris clogged the jet drive motor on the boat and they lost all power. The raging water pushed their boat toward a stream that led to an oxbow lake. ’Usually that stream is five or six yards wide. At that point it was 50 yards wide,’ Page said. Page used a paddle to try to control the boat while Smith tried to clear the debris from the motor intake. The paddle was useless against the current. About 100 yards down the normally placid steam they spotted a downed tree all spanning it from bank to bank. The men braced for impact. The boat hit the tree motor first, shattering the cowling. The current turned the boat sideways against the log and Page tried to tie a bowline to it to no avail. Water began to swamp the boat and Page scrambled onto the tree as the boat washed under it. Smith was knocked into the water but held on to the boat. Page began to crawl along the tree toward the bank. He could see Smith and the boat spinning in the water. He yelled at Smith to forget about the boat and saw him move away from it as both washed around a bend. Neither had a method to communicate with the other or the chopper above. Page reached the bank in an area of thick vegetation and had to cut his way through it as he headed downstream toward where he had last seen Smith. The vegetation thinned and he made it about 100 yards. At that point he yelled for Smith who answered. Smith had grabbed a tree and had just worked his way to the bank when Page located him. They checked each other for injury and found a clearing from which they signaled the helicopter pilot that they were okay. As they began to leave to look for a landing zone, they heard more yelling from the water. They found two Taylor County rescue personnel pulling themselves onto the bank. Their rescue boat had capsized in about the same area the rangers ran into trouble. One had a shoulder injury. The evaluated the injury then the four began walking out. They soon heard another yell. It was the pilot who had landed his helicopter in a clearing. Page and Smith sent the firefighters out in the chopper first. The pilot then returned for them, dropping them in a hay field where they caught a ride back to their trucks at the bridge. It turned out that no one was in the capsized boat. It had been washed into the river from a dock. ‘It was ironic but we didn’t know that at the time. We had a duty to act and did so,’ Page said. Days later, a chopper crew spotted the DNR boat and the rescue craft from Taylor County. Both appeared to be heavily damaged but will eventually be recovered. ’The water has receded now. The boats are actually way up in the woods. We will get them when it drys out in there. People need to beware of the danger of being on the river after heavy rains. Rain from north of us washes downstream. Just because it has turned sunny here doesn’t mean the rivers are safe,’ Page warned.

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Website by - Copyright 2021