Accident Database

Report ID# 2500

  • Swim into Strainer
  • Near Drowning
  • Other

Accident Description

Rafter nearly drowns in Boise River
Rescue crews resuscitate 58-year-old woman who was pinned upside-down on a fallen tree for up to 15 minutes.
By Katy Moeller -
Edition Date: 08/08/07

A 58-year-old woman was pinned head-down in the Boise River when the raft she was floating in snagged on a fallen tree in the channel and flipped over. The unidentified woman was unconscious, not breathing and had no pulse when she was freed from the snag and pulled ashore. Her bathing suit was caught on the tree. In essence, she drowned.

But the swift actions of city police, firefighters and the Fire Department dive team brought the woman back to life. They performed CPR, breathing life back into her limp body. "It was a cold-water drowning — and a resuscitation," Boise Fire Assistant Chief Dave Hanneman said. "Everybody did an excellent job on this rescue." The woman was taken to St. Luke's Boise Regional Medical Center.. Her condition was not available late Tuesday. Those who'd seen the dangerous tree in the river just east of the Capitol Street Bridge in Boise had notified the dive team just a half-hour before the accident, a fire official said.

The cold river water, which can numb exposed hands and feet during a two- or three-hour float, may have increased the woman's chances of survival. "People have a mammalian reflex, a nerve in your face," Hanneman said. "It slows your metabolism down. People have survived over an hour under water." Calls for help started coming in to Ada County dispatch at 5:42 p.m., Hanneman said. Lewis Hower, 24, who was floating the Boise River at that time, said the raft that the victim and her 31-year-old son and 9-year-old grandson were traveling in flipped. "She was jammed between the raft and the log," said Hower, whose knuckle was bleeding after he scrambled up through the dense brush along the bank to call for help. "You could see only her feet." Her son and grandson were able to swim to safety. Hower said that when he saw the raft flip, he also was concerned about a nearby group of kids floating the river without life jackets. He ushered them away from the dangerous area.

The Greenbelt was thick with cyclists when the woman became trapped. They gathered to watch rescue efforts. Cyclist Tony Lukach said he'd heard the woman was trapped for 15 minutes. "They had to find her. She was trapped under a log," said another cyclist, Shawn Atkinson, 16,. The teens had also heard that the woman was trapped — head under water — for 10 minutes or longer. No one knew for sure how long. "It's hard to speculate," Hanneman said. "(In an emergency), time seems like forever. They think it was a half hour, but (maybe) it was four minutes." Hanneman said a Boise police officer who was at nearby Boise State University was on the scene quickly.

Boise firefighters and the department's dive team responded in full force. "They climbed down on the limb, and basically, she had to be cut off. They had to cut her bathing suit off. Her bathing suit was what was stuck on the log," Hanneman said. That freed the woman, who floated to where the dive team could pull her ashore.

After the woman was taken to the hospital, the dive team went back into the river and cut out the dangerous limb. "Our river is a dynamic river. Those kinds of things (falling trees and limbs) are always happening," Hanneman said. "You have to pay attention to your surroundings. You could get washed up into a tree pretty easy."

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

Grandma who nearly drowned in Boise River continues her recovery

58-year-old hopes to return to her teaching job this fall

"I always believed if you're supposed to be dead, you're supposed to be dead. Clearly, I'm not supposed to be dead," said Sari Starr. After nearly drowning in the Boise River on Aug. 7 then hospitalized in a coma, she is now undergoing physical therapy to regain her ability to stand and walk.

By Katy Moeller -

Edition Date: 08/18/07

Sari Starr got into such a life-threatening tangle with the Boise River that many did not believe she'd survive. She was entangled in the limbs of a downed tree Aug. 7, submerged head-down in cold river water for about 10 minutes. But the stubborn and colorful grandma — a Grateful Dead fan who named her black poodle after Jerry Garcia — came through the ordeal with her life and sense of humor in tact.Her sister and 17-year-old nephew cheered Friday when she took a few wobbly steps with a walker during physical therapy at Idaho Elks Rehabilitation Hospital in Boise."Wait a minute, wait a minute, this is not a performing chimpanzee," joked Starr. It was a joyful scene that would have been almost unimaginable a week and a half ago after the raft she was floating in flipped

."All we could see was her feet," said Andie Ryan, who headed the Ada County Paramedics team that resuscitated Starr. The estimated time from the first 911 call to when rescuers pulled Starr from the water was 9 minutes, 42 seconds, according to Boise Fire Capt. Greg Ramey, a dive team shift supervisor. The 58-year-old, who was floating the river with her son and grandson, was not breathing and had no pulse when the paramedics went to work on her. She was clinically dead. The paramedics initiated CPR, put a tube down her throat to get pure oxygen to her lungs and set up an IV to get medicines into her body that would help re-start her heart."We got a pulse after about 12 minutes of doing CPR," Ryan said.In the ambulance on the way to St. Luke's Boise Regional Medical Center, paramedics saw signs of life. "She took a couple breaths on her own," Ryan said. "We call it ‘bucking the tube' ... her body was saying, ‘OK, I'm going to fight back."

Starr was in critical condition and on life support for several days. "There are no words to express how you feel when you see someone you love hooked up to every machine you can imagine," said her sister, April Maiten, who traveled with Starr to see family and friends in the Boise area. Doctors at St. Luke's initially induced hypothermia in Starr, keeping her body cool to slow her metabolism and prevent brain injury."It's clear from the medical literature that this improves outcomes," said Dr. John East, a critical care physician with Idaho Pulmonary Associates."They started defrosting her Thursday night," said Maiten, laughing while her sister grimaced at the thought. On Saturday, doctors removed Starr's breathing tube. She could breathe on her own and showed signs of consciousness. But it wasn't until early Sunday morning that she truly regained consciousness. "She woke up at, like, 6 in the morning, screaming for Alex, her grandson," Maiten said.Alex, 9, was tossed into the river when their raft hit the tree. He had on a life jacket and had floated down river. "A fisherman wearing waders pulled him out," said Starr, recounting what her grandson told her. "We don't know who the fisherman ... . We greatly appreciate that he rescued my Alex."

The family is grateful to the many people who participated in the rescue effort.She doesn't remember the floating accident and doesn't want to. Her long-term memory has come back to her over several days. Starr plans to head back to California next week and hopes to return to her job as a special ed teacher this fall. She's been teaching for 25 years.She'd like to visit the Treasure Valley again."I'd like to come back because I have no memory of Boise," she said. "I wouldn't recognize the river if I fell into it."

She plans to destroy her living will. She's happy to be alive and plans to make the most of the time she has left."If I'm not going to be dead now, then I need to do something useful with my life," she said.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!