Two valley residents save man drowning in Gunnison River
August 12, 2008
On July 25, a fisherman walked away from a near-drowning in the Gunnison River thanks to the quick actions of two valley residents.
Woody Creek resident Michael Haas and fellow River Rats guide Steven Fischer, of Glenwood Springs, had arrived at the confluence of the Gunnison’s north and main forks of after a four-day river trip in the Black Canyon. The two were in the process of cleaning gear and rolling up boats when they heard a cry for help, they said.
Both said they had been listening to the screams of swimming teenagers all day and at first thought it might just be that.
But a second cry ” even more panicked than the first ” got their attention, Fischer said.
They ran upriver and saw two men, the older of whom was “flailing” and “drowning,” according to Fischer. He estimated the man was in his early 40s.
The two looked at each other.
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“Mike says, ‘I’ll go in,'” said Fischer. “And I said, ‘OK, I’ll back you up.'”
Haas swam over to the man, and saw that he was going under and coming back up, and panicking.
“A panicked victim like that, they’re not thinking,” he said.
Haas warned the man not to grab him and told him to roll over on his back ” just as he had been taught in swift-water rescue classes he’s taken in Buena Vista.
“[Haas] said, ‘I’m here to help you, don’t panic,'” according to Fischer.
But the man grabbed Haas anyway, pulling him under.
They were under long enough that Fischer was about to go in after them when Haas came back up.
Again, Fischer said, Haas told the man not to panic and explained that he was there to save him. By this point, he said, the man was too exhausted to struggle.
Haas was able to grab onto the man and use the swimmer’s drag to bring him to shore.
According to Fischer, the drowning victim was on his way to losing consciousness, but never did. He did spend about an hour retching up the water he had swallowed, but did not appear to need an ambulance.
Meanwhile, the man’s son, who the men estimated to be in his late teens, explained that the two had been trying to cross the river when their waders filled up with water. Without warning, they found themselves flailing in the cold and fast-moving water.
Haas said he’s grateful for his rescue training. Knowing what to do helped him stay calm and react well, he said. He noted that anyone can go out and buy a boat, but in dealing with a worst-case scenario, it helps to have tools and practice.
Fischer said he was reminded not to underestimate a body of water.
“It may look tame on the surface,” he said, “but there’s a lot going on underneath that could get you in trouble in a hurry.”
After about an hour, the two fisherman got up and walked back to the car. Fischer and Haas never saw the father and son again.