Accident Database

Report ID# 3981

  • Swim into Strainer
  • Near Drowning
  • Other

Accident Description

This is Aleah, Gabe's wife. Since I don't have my own Facebook account, I've hacked my husband's because this story is too important not to share. As some of you have heard, Gabe and I were involved in a canoeing/kayaking accident yesterday that quickly turned tragic. The story I am about to tell is a great example of selflessness without hesitation and heroic bravery. My husband showed true courage under unbelievable circumstances. Gabe and I were about two-thirds of the way into our kayaking trip on the Big Darby Creek near Harrisburg, Ohio. The water level was up due to the recent rainfalls and it was moving rapidly.

As we quickly approached a tree that had fallen across the river, leaving little room to pass, we noticed a distressed man and two boys on the tree. The man yelled out, asking us to call 9-1-1. As Gabe was attempting to retrieve his phone out of our waterproof bag, he heard a woman screaming. Her foot was trapped and the undertow was pulling her under the tree. The only parts of her body out of the water were her face and hands, which were clinging desperately to the tree. After realizing that he was running out of time, Gabe threw the bag to the husband to get the phone and then quickly jumped out of the kayak to begin trying to save the woman. Multiple times, Gabe was pulled under by the powerful undertow or stuck on limbs, rocks, and other debris, but he continued to try to free her.

The bad situation took a devastating turn for the worse when a canoe with two girls collided into our group. The forceful water had pulled them right into our mess. The canoe capsized, throwing the two girls into the water and pushing the woman completely under the tree. Although the girls were pulled under the water several times by the undertow, we were able to eventually get them up on the log. However, the woman was now completely submerged. The other canoe pushed her canoe (which we hadn't realized was already under the tree and was the reason she was trapped) further under the fallen tree dragging the woman down with it. While we were all panicked and trying to do anything we could think of to save her, Gabe calmly and quickly began to desperately move her canoe (which was about five feet under water) in the hopes of dislodging it from the tree.

Gabe's quick thinking eventually worked but it had been several minutes, and by the time the woman reemerged, she was unconscious, face-down, and floating quickly down the river. Gabe quickly swam after her, caught up with her, and pulled her to the bank. In a matter of seconds he was performing CPR on a stranger who had little chances of survival at this point. It was estimated that she was submerged for 3-5 minutes total. He kept up with the CPR, never giving up, until she eventually vomited and began to breathe on her own. And although he was worried about my fate (as I was stranded with the other two girls on the fallen tree, surrounded by rapidly moving water and a powerful undertow), he stayed with the woman and attempted to keep her calm and comfortable until the responders and medflight arrived.

Although it was Gabe’s actions that saved her life, not one person in our group of 10 gave up hope during the entire ordeal. Despite the fact that we were all strangers brought together by an unforeseen and unimaginable tragedy, everyone worked together to save each other from a situation that could have easily claimed multiple lives. I also want to mention the girl celebrating her 18th birthday (one of the two thrown from the canoe and pulled under multiple times by the unforgiving undertow) who calmly called the 9-1-1 dispatcher and patiently explained our dire circumstances and the uncertainty of the woman's survival. Many material possessions were lost yesterday (boats, phones, clothing, etc.). They were all inconsequential. The only thing that truly matters was the number of lives saved against the odds.

Below, I have provided a poignant picture from the Columbus Dispatch. In this very emotional scene, the victim's son, Brian, is hugging Gabe and thanking him for saving his mom's life. Without Gabe's intervention, a husband would have lost his wife and a young boy would have lost his mother.

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