A harrowing rescue on
flooded Jacks Fork — and $80 fines
Wes Johnson, Springfield
Published May 6, 2019
The Jacks Fork river was
more than 2 feet above flood stage Saturday — and closed to paddling — when the
urgent phone message came in. Ten paddlers in trouble. Two in the water.Chris
Figge, Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Supervisor for the Jacks Fork
District of ONSR, took the call and got a location from one of the paddlers
with a cell phone.
He quickly marshaled
help from other rangers, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Mountain View
police and fire departments.
"I was speaking
with a young lady on her cell phone and I could tell immediately they weren't
just missing their equipment," Figge recalled. "She said one friend
is trying to get the other friend out of the water. She said their heads are out of the water,
but they're struggling."
Motoring downstream from
Blue Spring on an aluminum jon boat, Figge and his crew quickly discovered a
"I saw a canoe
wrapped around a tree in waist-deep water, and two people clinging to the canoe
and the tree," he said. "We pulled up and got one in the boat right
away. But the second person — he was very calm — said his right foot was
trapped inside the canoe and he couldn't move."The trapped man wasn't
wearing a life jacket.
Figge said he laid on
the deck and ran his hand down the man's leg. "When the canoe hit
the tree, the sides of the canoe folded up, and the metal bent around his
foot," Figge said. "I asked if he thought it was broken or if he was
in pain, and he said 'No, but I'm numb from the waist down and really don't
The trapped paddler was
at risk from hypothermia the longer he stayed in the water. Figge said the man was wearing low-top
converse tennis shoes.
"I used my rescue
knife to cut the shoelaces and cut away pieces of his shoe. Then I had him work
his foot back and forth and finally got it free."
Figge said the man,
uninjured, was lucky."I've worked drownings at that exact site
before," he said. "We had a happy ending to this one."
Figge said the paddlers
were from Missouri University of Science and Technology. They launched their
privately owned canoes and kayaks when the river was running at 6.4 feet high.
"We close the river
at 4 feet, which is flood stage," Figge said. "Three of their canoes
went under and one kayak capsized. There's a reason why we close the river when
it gets like this."
Figge said he wrote each
of the paddlers a citation for ignoring the posted signs that show the river
was closed. Each paddler got an $80 fine.