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Close call for N.C. rescuers trying to reach stranded boaters

A rescue boat capsized as first responders in Transylvania County tried to reach people in flood waters

By Simone Jasper
The Charlotte Observer

TRANSYLVANIA COUNTY, N.C. — Rescuers were swept away while trying to reach stranded boaters on a North Carolina river, officials said.

Several people were taken to the hospital after the water rescue took a “catastrophic” turn Tuesday, Jan. 9, according to Connestee Fire Rescue Inc.

“It was completely unforeseen,” Fire Chief Chase Owen told The Transylvania Times. “Sometimes things like this can just go awry.”

The day of the mishap, severe storms lashed much of North Carolina with powerful winds and heavy rain. In Transylvania County, first responders were called just before 6 p.m. to reports of people screaming in an area that floods frequently, according to rescuers and WLOS.

A group had been trying to get to their livestock, which were “surrounded by flood waters.” Three people were in a boat on the French Broad River when it was swept away and overturned, sending them into the water, Connestee Fire Rescue wrote in a news release.

Crews used a drone to find the stranded group before setting out on boats to reach them. But one of the rescue boats experienced a “catastrophic incident” when it capsized and got lodged against a bridge, officials said.

“Two members of the vessel crew were able to exit the river quickly,” rescuers wrote. “Two more members of the crew were swept downstream approximately 75 yards and were able to reach an area of refuge and wait for more crews to rescue them. The fifth and final rescuer was swept approximately 150 yards downriver before reaching an area of refuge.”

The three crew members who got swept away were rescued with the help of first responders from other counties. Everyone on the rescue boat — including members of Connestee Fire Rescue, Rosman Fire Rescue and Transylvania County Rescue Squad — was taken to a hospital with “mild hypothermia” and released. No major injuries were reported.

“Swift water is extremely dangerous and can be unforgiving, especially at night,” the Transylvania County Rescue Squad wrote in a Facebook post. “The rescuers on this incident, most all volunteers, truly put their lives on the line to help save others.”

The group that the first responders originally tried to reach also made it to safety and received treatment, officials said.

Connestee Fire Rescue is based in Brevard , roughly 30 miles southwest of the popular mountain town of Asheville .

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