Braving rising water levels and raging current, emergency responders rescued three local teenagers stranded in a boat on the Willimantic River amid Tuesday’s deluge.
Officials from the Mansfield Fire Department, Coventry Volunteer Fire Association and the Tolland County Dive Team responded to the call at approximately 6:46 p.m.
Details as to who made the call that saved the three teens from fierce water are not known, said officials.
CVFA Chief Joe Carilli said it took only four minutes for officials to arrive on the scene – just south of the Cider Mill Road bridge – and from there, it was a successful execution of a “swift water rescue.”
“It went the way it should have,” he said.
Mansfield Deputy Fire Chief William Jordan – who was in command of the response team Tuesday – said the rescue went well during what was “truly a swift water operation.”
The boat was tied to a tree with the teens hanging on when rescuers arrived, Jordan said.
According to Carilli, 50 firefighters, divers and other emergency personnel were part of the coordinated effort to rescue the three teenagers.
He said all three young men – who have not been identified – were evaluated once they were out of the water, and no one was injured.
Emergency personnel said they thought the three teenagers are from Coventry.
Carilli said the main concern for both the victims and emergency officials was hypothermia, but the water was “not too cold.”
He said two of the three were minors and had to be picked up by their parents and the other was of-age and able to leave, once medical evaluations were complete.
Dive team Assistant Commander Norm Meikle said the rescue went “very smooth.” Meikle was one of two divers in the water getting the three men to safety. The other diver was Mark Dittrich, a deputy commander with the dive team.
He said divers entered the river at a “still water” entrance – where the water is calm and carries little threat of dragging or towing – because it was too dangerous to enter the water any other way.
According to Meikle, rescuers stayed near trees and used them as a “bumper” to shield themselves from any debris flowing down the river.
Rescuers also used the trees to anchor themselves with rope while in the water, he said.
And safety lines were set up down the river where other responders were located, in case anyone in the water drifted away, Meikle said.
He also noted that the three teens added some difficulties to an already dangerous situation; they had no life jackets and were wearing steel-toe work boots.
They did have a cell phone.
And one was wearing shorts. “It didn’t make sense,” Meikle said.
Jordan said, to his knowledge, the teenagers did not even have oars in the boat when they were rescued.
In addition to being ill-prepared for a ride down the Willimantic River, Meikle said the boat was in no condition to face choppy, swift waters.
“The boat they had was so old,” he said. He wondered how the boat stayed intact when pushed and slammed against trees along the river. The boat wasn’t retrieved from the river and he doubted it survived the night.
Meikle said Tuesday’s successful rescue was the result of training and the collective efforts of the responders.
He said dive team members started getting trained for swift-water rescues two years ago.
Posted March 31, 2010 as edited by HTNP.com Editor Brenda Sullivan
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