Three Soldiers credited with rescue on Black River
May 1, 2014
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 1, 2014 -- What had been planned as an evening of fishing for three 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) Soldiers, turned into a courageous, yet bittersweet, rescue on a local river.
Spc. Christopher D. Grant and Pvt. Trenton M. Brown were fishing together on the Black River in Watertown with their families, April 21, the last day of a four-day weekend. Grant, a paralegal specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, and Brown, a helicopter hydraulics repairer with B Company, 277th Aviation Support Battalion, 10th CAB, had had their fishing lines in the water no more than 10 minutes when they heard cries for help coming from their left.
A canoe had overturned, and a young couple was in the water struggling to hang on as a current carried them about 60 meters from the shore.
"Once they saw us, they both pushed off of the boat and started trying to swim to us," Grant said. "I noticed right off that the male appeared to be a strong swimmer by the way he started swimming from the boat. The current was fighting him hard, and I think when he noticed the female was having trouble swimming, he chose to stay with her."
The current was pushing the couple toward the dock, so Grant and Brown ran to Grant's truck to get a 100-foot rope.
They unraveled the rope, tied a heavy stick to the end for weight and made several attempts to throw it out to the couple, but came up short each time, the last attempt coming about 15 feet from them.
By this time, Grant estimated the couple had been in the frigid water nearly 15 minutes.
"As I attempted to throw the rope again, the back current caught them and started dragging them back toward the (boat) launch," Grant said. "It was at this point that the male began trying to hold the female up, causing him to go under and take on water. We ran back from the dock to the launch, and I noticed the male go under."
It was around this time when a third Fort Drum Soldier came on scene.
Pfc. Matthew Phillips, a cavalry scout with A Troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, pulled up. Before he could grab his fishing pole, he recognized that something wasn't right.
"Right when I pulled up, I saw everybody running, screaming 'they're drowning!'" said Phillips, a former lifeguard. "Of all who were there, I was the best equipped to get into the water, but (the couple) was not close enough (for me) to swim out and back."
Phillips, wearing shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops, grabbed the stick-end of the rope and rushed into the water as Grant and Brown tied a second rope to the end of the first.
All three Soldiers were now in the water, which was reported to be about 36 degrees Fahrenheit. The clamor of sirens from emergency response vehicles could now be heard and were getting increasingly louder.
"I ran from the launch up to the road and saw them stop on the bridge," said Brown, of the emergency response vehicles. "I flagged them down and guided them to the scene."
Meanwhile, as Phillips swam with the stick-end of the rope toward the woman, Grant waded out into the water up to his chest while holding the other end of the rope. Phillips took hold of the woman, securing her under the armpits and yelled "pull!" Grant pulled them in as quickly as he could. As Phillips brought her to shore, Grant ran to them and carried the woman onto the beach. Brown brought whatever he could find to warm her, such as blankets and sweatshirts.
"She was freezing cold, shivering and turning blue," said Phillips, who was showing signs of hypothermia himself. "It was the coldest water I've ever been in in my life. Nothing would've prepared me for how cold that was."
For the three young Soldiers, the rescue was bittersweet, as the search continues for the man who appeared to have swum back to help the woman.
"If I could have gotten to the man, I would have, but I just couldn't get to him," Phillips said.
Brown said it appeared the couple was holding each other as they went down the river and that the man was pushing the woman up until he ultimately disappeared below the water.
"He gave his life to save her," he said. "That's the hardest part."