By Robin Bass
Wednesday, October 18, 2006 12:35 PM EDT
from The Spencer Magnet
What started out as a pleasant trip down the Salt River ended abruptly last Tuesday when several canoes tipped over spilling three adults and five children into the cold rushing water.
“Up until that moment, we were having a great time,” said Ty Neal, who brought along his wife and two daughters for the trip.
Eleven people in all had decided to spend the afternoon on the river after renting canoes from Salt River Outfitters. The plan was to launch from the tailwaters at Taylorsville Lake Dam and end their trip at the rental shop on East River Road.
“They told us the water was up and we needed to use good judgement,” said Neal.
But all agreed no one could have known what lay ahead.
Brett Beaverson said that he and his twelve-year-old daughter Hannah were about four minutes down river of the others and were the first to encounter a fallen tree spanning the width of the river. The pair attempted to slip through a narrow opening, but the swift current didn’t allow them enough time to execute the maneuver.
“My head hit a branch. We wobbled and went over,” said Hannah.
After making sure his daughter was okay, Beaverson began yelling warnings to the approaching canoes.
“I was yelling up river ‘9-1-1’ and ‘Get on the shore,’” he said.
While they waited, clinging to branches from the tree, Beaverson said he and Hannah began to pray. “We prayed for the babies coming down the river, because we knew what was coming,” recalled Beaverson as tears formed in his eyes.
Just upriver the remaining canoe party, containing three more adults and six children ranging in ages from 7 to 13, were fast approaching.
“We heard people screaming and we didn’t know what was going on,” said Tatum Neal, 8, one of Ty Neal’s daughters.
When the group became aware of their dilemma, some tried to get around the tree while others attempted to get their canoes to the riverbanks.
Three managed to get safely to shore and make the call for help, while the rest were flipped over by the strong current. Rescuers found most of the canoe party holding onto branches or sitting atop the large tree that caused their perdicament.
Connie Jefferies and her daughter, Courtney, were found a little further downstream after Courtney lost her grip.
“Her mom let go to go after Courtney,” said Hannah.
“They were all real lucky,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Kyle Bennett who responded to the scene, “the Corps of Engineers were letting the water out at full capacity.”
According to the Army Corp of Engineers daily lake information line, water that day was being discharged into the tailwaters at a rate of 2,250 cubic feet per second which equates to over one million gallons per minute.
“As swift as that water was moving, they couldn’t get over to the shore in time,” said Taylorsville/Spencer County Fire Chief Nathan Nation, “the ones that were in the water were fortunate enough to have something to hang onto and weren’t swept under.”
Nation said it was also fortunate that everyone in the canoe party was wearing a life preserver.
“You just can’t say enough about wearing life jackets,” said Nation.
The whole rescue took firefighters and others that responded only about 45 minutes to bring everyone safely to shore, but for some of those waiting in the water, it seemed like much longer.
“While I was in the water I kept moving my hands and feet to make sure they were okay,” said Heather Beverson, “If we had been there 20 minutes more we would have frozen to death.”
While it was highly unlikely anyone was going to perish from frostbite, Nation said in this type of situation hypothermia and more likely, drowning, is a concern. Which is why local firefighters have been working to improve their response to water emergencies.
Nation said since the rescue of Matthew Gentry in May 2004 from another section of the Salt River, “we have made the commitment to increase our water rescue training and the equipment needed in those rescues.”
In fact just last month, local firefighters participated in a two-day water rescue training at Taylorsville Lake.
“There’s no doubt that training came in to play” during this recent rescue, said Nation, “it went pretty smoothly even though it was the most difficult one we’ve done so far.”
The stranded canoe party was returned back to shore by firefighters in life jackets swimming out to some and by throwing a rope out to others. Those rescued by rope were escorted safely through the rushing water.
“The rescue team did a phenomenal job. It looked like they did it by the book,” said Neal after he and the rest of the canoe party was dry and secure back at the rental store, “we are going to come back. We’ll just wait for the water to go down.”