Fishermen aid in rescue of capsized kayakers
Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2011
By Joe Knight Leader-Telegram staff Leader-Telegram
ALTOONA - Two kayakers paddling upstream on the Eau Claire River capsized and spent some anxious minutes circling in a powerful eddy on the Altoona side of the dam before being rescued Sunday evening.
Altoona Fire Department officials arrived at scene at 6:14 p.m. and encouraged one of the kayakers, Lance Girard, 28, of Chippewa Falls, to swim to the edge of the eddy, where he was able to float downstream and swim to the Altoona side. Girard was wearing a life jacket.
Three fishermen at the dam located some extension cords, which were tied to a life jacket and thrown to Hendrickson. He grabbed the life jacket on the third toss and was pulled to shore by bystanders and officials at 6:26 p.m.
His overturned kayak continued to circle in the eddy until fire officials closed the open gate on the dam, which reduced the power of the swirling water to the point at which the kayak drifted free and began to float downstream. It then was recovered by a Township Fire Department boat.
Though exhausted, Girard and Hendrickson were unhurt. The assisting fishermen were Michael Englert of Eau Claire, and Daniel Banta and Duane Boettcher, both of Cadott.
Township Fire Chief Jack Running said he was reluctant to send a motorboat into the eddy to retrieve the kayak while the gate was open because of the current's power. "Those low-head dam situations are very dangerous. There could be a boil in there that pulls you under," he said. "We've had a lot of rain, and there's a lot of water coming over the dam," he said. Altoona fire Capt. Gerald Prete said neither kayaker had a life vest suitable for swift water. They should have had a type 5 life jacket designed for fast water, he said.
Safety officials were contacted by cellphone by fishermen who saw the kayakers overturn.
Knight can be reached at 715-830-5835, 800-236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.