Missoula swimmer saved in dramatic Clark Fork River rescue
(KGVO-AM News) - Just before 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 3, a Missoula Rural Fire District crew, Missoula Emergency Services, and Missoula County Sheriff’s Office personnel responded to the Kelly Island fishing access site to rescue a female swimmer who had become stranded on a log in the turbulent Clark Fork River.
Assistant Chief of Operations with Missoula Rural Fire Paul Finlay has details.
One Female Swam out into the River and Couldn't Swim Back
“There was a group of individuals who were down enjoying the weather and water at that point, and one of the individuals involved ended up swimming out and then getting essentially trapped on top of a log, which coincidentally acted as a strainer and found herself in a situation that she was uncomfortable removing herself from,” began Chief Finlay. “And so, we were all of the agencies described were dispatched in order to assist in getting her from that location.”
Finlay said the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office joined in to help rescue the swimmer.
“The sheriff's office was able to do some rope work and get a lifejacket out to her,” he said. “Then, we were successfully able to launch an inflatable boat and get it out to that point. She jumped onto the boat and we were able to get her into an eddy where she was safe from that point.”
Chief Finlay said to Beware of Rivers that are Running High, Fast, and Cold
Chief Finlay said the Clark Fork is running high, fast, and cold, a dangerous combination for a swimmer.
“It’s a troubling trio for us, that's for sure as well,” he said. “A river that’s running high, fast, and cold can really have an impact on your ability to swim or do anything after just a short period of time in the water, and really that hypothermia can set in awfully quickly. The water just takes your body temperature away from you. That’s why we are really emphasizing to people to stay away from running water at this point and enjoy it in a different way; from the shore.”
Finlay said the current conditions on the Clark Fork are dangerous for the first responders, as well.
The Current River Conditions are Dangerous to First Responders as Well
“We don't want to jeopardize our responders any more than we want to see other people in jeopardy,” he said. “We're just trying to message that out to anybody recreating in the area just to be very careful if you have to be around moving water. At this point, if you don't have to be around moving water, we encourage you not to be; but certainly, there are some safety aspects that can be taken. If you need to you can use a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) throw bag that can be helpful in the event that you find yourself near water.”
All the first responders involved were gratified that the rescue effort was successful and asked all Missoula residents and visitors to use extreme caution while recreating near Missoula’s rivers and streams.