River ride leads to ride on life flight helicopter

Published 11:10 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

What began as a leisurely float down the creek ended with a helicopter ride to the hospital for two Hurricane Gustav evacuees Tuesday.

David Anderson, chief deputy of the Covington County Sheriff’s Office, said his department was contacted by the Conecuh County Sheriff’s Office around 4:15 p.m. Tuesday when a “20-something” male and female from Louisiana were reported missing from a family member’s waterfront property in Loango.

“The two evacuees from Hurricane Gustav were staying with relatives in Loango,” Anderson said. “They were not familiar with the creek and how fast a situation can change.

“They had put in at Pigeon Creek on pool floats and had been missing for about two hours when we were called,” he said.

Anderson said law enforcement officials quickly gathered to form a search party.

“The sheriff and I met with Sheriff Booker (of Conecuh County) who had been informed that the two had left with a cell phone,” he said. “They had called their parents who informed dispatch they were located north of the Bull Slough area of Pigeon Creek.”

The use of a canoe was required to retrieve the two.

“River Falls Police Chief Jeff Holland, Paul Stacks of the River Falls Volunteer Fire Department and Sheriff’s Posse members Joe Barton and Larry Joe Jones put in two canoes in the creek at Stacks’s relative’s home and began going downstream in search of the two,” Anderson said. “They were finally located about two-and-a-half miles downstream.”

Anderson said the male victim suffered a twisted ankle and sprained knee. The female victim suffered numerous cuts and bruises.

“As if that wasn’t enough of an experience, the man came out of the water and stepped on a hornet’s nest and was stung several times,” he said. “Unfortunately, he is highly allergic and began to suffer an allergic reaction to the stings. His reaction was so severe he was life flighted from the edge of the woods to Baptist Hospital in Pensacola.”

Anderson said he and Sheriff Meeks were required to travel six miles south of U.S. Hwy. 84 to a hunting camp on the edge of Conecuh County in order to access the creek banks to meet the search party.

“By the time we got there, he was in severe distress — his throat was beginning to swell,” he said. “We threw the both of them in back of the sheriff’s truck and drove to 84, where Advanced EMS met us. Luckily, Life Flight arrived and was able to transport him to the hospital.”

Anderson said the male victim is in stable condition and is expected to make a full recovery.

“We’ve had a lot of rain over the last few days,” he said. “Waterways are often unpredictable and can be dangerous — especially if you’re not familiar with your surroundings,” he said. “If you plan to be on the waterways, it’s imperative you have the proper equipment, namely a life jacket.”

Sheriff Dennis Meeks said the only “saving grace was that they had a cell phone.”

“This is a situation that could have turned out very badly,” Meeks said. “Luckily the two were able to call their family and describe their location and through a combined effort between law enforcement agencies, we were able to bring them home safely.

“I’m proud things turned out the way they did, but it goes to remind us how quickly a situation could go wrong,” he said. “Thanks to those four men who really only had an hour and a half of daylight to locate these two. They went above and beyond the call of duty.

“Remember, folks, tell someone what time you’re leaving, what time you’re coming in, where you’re going to put in and where you’re going to come out,” he said.

Representatives from the Alabama State Troopers and private citizens joined in the rescue effort.