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A harrowing rescue on flooded Jacks Fork — and $80 fines
, Springfield News-Leader
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 serious problem.
"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 know'."
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 10 paddlers a citation for ignoring the posted signs that show the river was closed. Each paddler got an $80 fine.
More rescues overnight
Theirs wasn't the only rescue over the weekend. Figge said a 67-year-old veteran paddler missed his take out point late Sunday on the Upper Current River, which was open to paddlers.
A rescue boat found him shortly after 10:30 p.m. Sunday, on shore where he had made a fire to keep warm.
Then at 2 a.m. Monday, rangers got a call about three people who had tried to float the upper Jacks Fork on tubes.
Rangers sent a boat and eventually found two empty tubes — but no people.
"At that point, we got pretty concerned," Figge said. "Then, at 5:30 this morning they were located. They had walked off the river and found a barn where they sought shelter near the town of Summersville."
That part of the river isn't within the boundaries of ONSR national park and so the park's river closure didn't apply to them and no fines were issued.
But Figge urged paddlers to be aware of river conditions before they float.
"My advice: Heed the closures," he said. "We have them there for a reason."
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