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5 rescued in 3 separate Blue River incidents

5 rescued in 3 separate Blue River incidents 5 rescued in 3 separate Blue River incidents
Wade Bell, Contributing Writer

Tragedy was averted on a swollen Blue River as emergency personnel made three rescues during the day and into the night Sunday. Heavy rains from thunderstorms the previous two days had raised the river several feet, making the river dangerous for water activities.

The first incident came early in the afternoon when Indiana conservation officers and  the Crawford County Sheriff’s Dept. received calls for an unidentified, unconscious man floating downriver toward Milltown and the dam.

According to a press release by the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources, the man was “intoxicated with a bottle of rum in his lap.” Conservation officers Neal Brewington and Jim Schreck were the first to reach the man’s location and shouted and blew whistles in an attempt to wake up the man but got no response. Throw bags were also used but failed to reach the man. Meanwhile, conservation officers Dennis Talley and Logan Hodges were in the process of launching a boat to get to the man.

“This man was in grave danger (of going over the dam),” Talley said of the situation.

Brewington and Schreck set up a tag line with a rescue swimmer with hopes of catching the man before he reached the dam, which was described as “boiling.” The unidentified man and rescuers caught a break, however, when a Crawford County deputy found the man washed up on the bank two miles above the dam where he could be reached. The man received a medical evaluation at the scene then was arrested by conservation officers without incident.

“So many people do not appreciate the hydraulics of a low-head dam,” said Talley. “We call them drowning machines. They claim lives indiscriminately and, once you’re in one, the chances of getting out of the boil are slim. I’ve worked entirely too many drownings over the last 30 years involving low-head dams alone. I’m glad he’s alive to remember it.”

Later in the day, emergency personnel were called to rescue two 16 year olds and a 10 year old whose raft had capsized into the river near Burgess Circle Road in Harrison County. It took about 90 minutes for rescuers to reach the three on the Crawford County side of the river; the trio were taken to a safe place near the rescue point.

A third incident began when it was learned a fourth person who was with the minors, an unidentified 22-year-old woman from Eckerty, had floated ahead of the three and was now missing. The search for that person began at Rothrock’s Mill, where the three minors were interviewed and gave information as to the location where the woman was last seen.

More than 50 first responders searched both sides of the river for the next few hours. The search team included Indiana conservation officers, Harrison Township Fire Dept., Milltown Volunteer Fire Dept., Ramsey VFD, Harrison and Crawford County EMS units and a number of land owners. Also, Floyd County Emergency Management Agency brought in a thermal-imaging drone.

The search eventually moved to the White Cloud area of Blue River at what is called Devil’s Elbow near Interstate 64 and S.R. 62.

The woman was finally found at about 10:40 p.m. in a remote location that included a 300-foot bluff. A rope system was used to bring the woman up the bluff to safety; nearly four hours later, she was taken to a command center.

Talley said he always stresses the importance of personal flotation devices to staying alive.

“We speak of dozens of drownings and body recoveries, and body recoveries from drownings,” he said. “So far not one officer — again, not a single officer — has worked a drowning where the person was wearing an appropriate PFD. That says it all. I am not saying you cannot drown while wearing a PFD, but I certainly think my observation verifies they save lives.”