A Keene State College student from Massachusetts is lucky to be alive after floating over a dam in an inflatable kiddie pool, and getting trapped in the churning current.
Keene firefighters grabbed the exhausted student as he sank in the frigid river Friday evening. They also had to rescue a woman who jumped in to try to save him.
"He went over the dam, got caught in the turbulent water and was clinging to the pool," said Deputy Fire Chief Mark Boynton. "When you get in (the swirling current), you can't get out."
Boynton said two people were in the kiddie pool, intending to float over the dam, when one bailed out. The other, Alex Perry, 19, of Westborough, Mass., went over and got trapped in the churning water at Ashuelot River Park.
As firefighters inflated their special rescue boat, a woman who was watching jumped into the 40-degree water and began swimming toward the struggling teen, Boynton said.
"She said she couldn't watch him drown," he said.
The well-intentioned gesture complicated the rescue, because firefighters had to rescue the woman on their way to the teen. Her extra weight in the boat made it difficult to maneuver through the "boil" of water below the dam.
As the firefighters fought to get to him, Perry either let go out of exhaustion, or was yanked away from his float by the current.
"A witness saw him churn in the boil three times before he resurfaced," said Boynton. Perry popped up about 15 feet in front of the boat, but couldn't stay afloat.
"He went under four more times before getting to the boat," Boynton said. "They reached into the water and managed to grab his hand."
The woman apparently was not injured. Boynton said when they got to shore, she left, but told bystanders she was fine and glad the teen had been rescued.
Boynton said the area is so dangerous that rescuers often train there for swift-water rescues.
He said the dam doesn't look like much, with a three- or four- foot drop this time of year, when the river is high.
"That's what leads you to being deceived," he said. "With all that water going over ... it's just moving in circular motion that you can't get out of."
The current pulls victims toward the dam and holds them there, he said.
On April 6, kayaker Mark Boucher, 33, of Ashburnham, Mass., was pulled under after his boat capsized close to the dam.
He still is in critical condition at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.