My name is Derek
July 27, 2011
Calamity at Cache Bridge resolves with quick action by prepared guides
Derek Hutton showed up to work last week to take clients fishing on the Teton River. He did not anticipate having to save a life, but high water in the region created a scenario that required quick action by Hutton and two fellow guides. Citizen photo/Jeannette Boner
High water pushed three local fishing guides from the South Fork of the Snake to the Teton River last Wednesday where they all aided in the rescue of a woman from Arizona who was paddling the body of water that was flowing outside of its banks.
Derek Hutton, Tyler Hardy and Brian McCabe were all acutely aware of the inherent dangers involved with rowing big water. Talk of safety had been paramount in their early season preparation with WorldCast Anglers. And on Wednesday, July 21, they made the decision to keep their clients off the South Fork. It was flowing at 24,000 cubic feet per second, more than twice the normal flow this time of year.
Instead, they headed to a stretch of the Teton River, which was flowing at a little more than 2,000 cfs down the middle of Teton Valley. That flow exceeded any data in recorded history, but there were only a handful of extremely dangerous spots along the river section they had chosen. Cache Bridge, located on 4000 North was the most perilous point in the float.
With no consequence, the three guides pulled into the ramp that is obvious on the river’s left bank just before Cache Bridge. Hutton had exited his boat and was walking to his truck when a family of floaters rounded the bend. As a man and woman in their sixties approached the bridge that had just inches of clearance, Hardy saw that they were not aware of the powerful currents. He began shouting verbal instructions.
“Paddle harder, paddle harder,” Hardy yelled, but it was too late. Their kayak wrapped around the bridge’s buttress and they were both dumped into the drink thats temperature was in the low 50’s. The man was swept under the bridge, but his wife was trapped underneath in one of the pockets of the precast concrete structure.
Hutton heard Hardy’s pitch get higher and higher as the couple neared the bridge, and then he saw him run up onto the center of the bridge, trying to make contact.
“As soon as I saw him break into a run, I grabbed my bowline that had a carabiner attached and my throw rope,” Hutton said.
Hardy was yelling that the man had made it under the bridge, but confirmed that the woman was pinned underneath the bridge. Hutton passed the throw rope to Hardy and then secured his bowline to the guardrail on the downstream side of the bridge as Hardy sent the threaded throw rope under the bridge from the other side and secured it. Hutton lowered himself into the river that was flowing fast enough to send him surfing on his stomach. He grabbed the rope Hardy had secured from upstream and pulled himself under the bridge.
“I had been certified in whitewater rescue years ago to make myself more valuable on the river. I knew I was trained to deal with this situation,” Hutton said. “Everyone knew it was a life threatening situation with a crucial time element.”
Hutton pulled himself upstream against the current. Though the water was inches from the bridge, he was able to pop his head up in the pockets underneath. After making his way past the second and third air pockets, he saw the back of the woman’s life jacket.
“Stay right there,” Hutton said. “I’m coming to get you.”
Without a knife to cut through any entanglements or a life jacket of his own, Hutton’s mind raced prior to making contact with the woman. He knew the possibility existed that she would be panic stricken and try to clutch to him, putting them both at risk.
“My name is Derek,” Hutton said to reassure the woman, “and I’m going to get you out of here.”
The woman was wide-eyed and coherent as she began to understand that it would only be possible to reach safety by heading downstream with Hutton, the way he had just come. Once it was confirmed the woman was not tangled in any rope, wire or fishing line, Hutton explained that it would be necessary for her to remove her life jacket in order to submerge enough to clear each concrete span that created the air pockets.
“I can’t go underwater. I’m cold. I don’t know what to do,” she told Hutton, but he was able to explain the necessity of his exit plan well enough to convince her. He put his hand on top of her head to ensure she would not injure herself on the way downstream, and the two made progress slowly. When one final move separated them from open air, Hutton explained that the woman could clutch to his right side, but he would need his left arm free to swim ashore.
With the current so strong, Hutton was worried he would go from one tragedy to the next if he and the woman were swept downstream, but he knew it was the only hope as the woman did not seem to be able to swim independently. One final plunge, and the two were out from under the bridge. Hutton held the woman across her chest with his right arm and made five strokes with his left, but he was being swept downstream fast. Before he knew what was happening, McCabe had made a perfect shot with his throw rope. The line landed just over Hutton’s shoulder and he pulled himself and the woman to safety.
“It was a bull’s eye throw,” Hutton said. “That was huge. The immediate, unspoken teamwork was a key element in resolving the situation.”
The woman’s husband collapsed after her recovery and they were whisked away by ambulance, leaving Hutton, Hardy and McCabe to fully digest what had just happened at the end of their workday.
“We were on point with so much talk of strainers and other dangers of high water,” Hutton said. “We were all keyed up about the importance of river safety. I was primed for this situation.”