Anatomy of a boat rescue


River conditions contribute to boat mishaps


July 14, 2009
OSSIPEE — With the first sunshine in six days combined with warm temperatures, locals and visitors couldn't seem to get outside and to the water fast enough during the fourth of July weekend. Unfortunately, those six days of rain before the holiday also caused dangerous river conditions which some did not take into account.

West Ossipee Fire Department was called out mid-morning on July 3 to a report of kayakers capsized near Ossipee Lake in the area of the rope swing, about 100 feet up the Bearcamp River. Fire Chief Brad Eldridge and Lieutenant Chris Tozier took the department's airboat out to rescue the man and bring him back to safety at the Westward Shores Campground beach.

Just as planned and practiced, the crew successfully completed the rescue.

Later in the day, however, rescuers from West Ossipee and surrounding towns would respond frantically to another scene certain they would have to rescue two of their own men.

At 1:34 p.m. Chief Eldridge called for fire and medical personnel to respond to the Bearcamp River boat launch on Route 25 West across from Yankee Smokehouse Restaurant for a subject out of his canoe and clinging to a tree. The airboat was brought to the scene and launched with Chief Eldridge and Lt. Tozier once again. Bystanders and firefighters gathered on the bridge and at the boat launch.

Within minutes, the boat and all communication equipment were under water and Eldridge and Tozier were in the fast moving river current.

When the boat was launched, according to fire department reports, the plan was to go between a gap in two downed trees to get to the victim. The river current, however, swept the boat into a downed tree. Tozier grabbed a branch to try to swing the boat away from the tree but the current was too strong and he lost his grip. The branch crashed the windshield, tore off the mounted communication equipment and caught the cage covering the fan on the back of the boat. Water soon poured into the boat and the men decided it was time to let the boat go. Tozier jumped out towards the victim while Eldridge grabbed a limb and held himself up so he didn't get hit by the boat as it was pushed upside down and downstream. Eldridge dropped into the water and the current swept him downstream.

With the radios in the water there was no communication between the dispatch center and the men. Static interference took over the airwaves and then a very distinct "glub, glub, glub" sound came across the airwaves.

West Ossipee firefighters rushed to the scene. Tuftonboro, Madison, Tamworth and Moultonboro departments were all toned out to assist.

Tozier and the victim were rescued when firefighters rigged a rope pulley system to get them to shore.

Eldridge managed to make it out of the cold water and to shore on his own after being carried downstream.

At 2:34pm all three were out of the water.

The airboat was taken downstream to an area just south of the home on Route 16 known as the Gingerbread House. Firefighters worked for several hours to secure the boat with ropes to trees. The boat was retrieved from the river July 5, once the level of the river had gone down approximately four feet.

The swollen river and the number of people attempting to travel in it by way of canoe, inflatable tubes and kayaks left many rescuers in disbelief at how many people underestimate the strength of moving water.

A visit to the USGS website reveals that the Bearcamp River was flowing at 350 cubic feet per second on July 1 and by July 3 was at 1,700 feet per cubic second. Comparatively, on July 3, 2008, the flow was 72.

Chief Eldridge reminds people to use common sense when enjoying water recreation. Do not attempt to enter the water during high water conditions and always wear lifejackets. Doing so will protect not only potential victims but rescuers as well.

Anyone who was witness to the boat incident on July 3 who may have taken pictures is asked to call Chief Eldridge at 539-6906.

Salmon Press
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