Man rescued after terrifying night lost on river
A 58-year-old man called the Ozark County 911 dispatch office around 9:17 p.m. Aug. 16, explaining that he was on the North Fork of the White River in his kayak, was taking on water and was lost. The weather had turned, and it was raining hard and there was a lot of lightning.
“He may be experiencing hypothermia, as he states he is cold, and he is unsure where he is. He is on a bank and believes he is somewhere on [North Fork] river somewhere after Patrick Bridge,” the 911 log says. “…possibly in the area between Patrick and James Bridges.”
The Missouri State Highway Patrol was dispatched, along with search and rescue teams from Tecumseh, Bakersfield and Dora.
Tecumseh Assistant Fire Chief J.B. Duke told the Times that MSHP Trooper John Roberts, Tecumseh firefighters Dan Israel and Anthony Duke and Dora Fire Chief Monte Shipley joined him in a search effort to find the man.
The Ozark County Ambulance was called and asked to stand by at James Bridge on the North Fork in case the man was found and needed medical attention.
The search continued for hours into the night without any sign of the man. He continued to converse with the sheriff’s dispatch office as much he could by phone, but the calls continually dropped due to poor cell service.
The man’s car was found at Warren Bridge on Bryant Creek, a different river, that has accesses in the same general area as the North Fork.
“Caller insists he is on the [North Fork] and that he has floated past Patrick Bridge on H Highway,” the dispatch log explains. He told emergency personnel that he’d remembered going under a tall bridge with a highway on top and then floating under a low water bridge, too.
The responders kept checking all accesses on both the North Fork and Bryant Creek for the man to show up.
A little after midnight, rescue crews discontinued the search until daybreak due to dangerous conditions of the storm and river levels, Duke said.
The man spent the night on a gravel bar, still lost, waiting out the storm.
At daybreak the next morning, Duke and Roberts met Israel at his home, which lies along a bank on the North Fork River near James Bridge, which crosses PP Highway.
Nathanael and Jonathan Winrod of Tecumseh VFD worked another angle, driving around to find the man’s other vehicle. They found his motorcycle at North Fork Recreation Area (Hammond) access on the North Fork.
Israel used a kayak to search the river, putting in at Patrick Bridge and floating down. He found the man somewhere on a stretch between Patrick and James Bridges.
Emergency personnel accessed the area where he was found through a landowner’s farm, cutting a path to Israel and the man from the farm road, which had several downed trees blocking the way.
Duke says the man was taken back to his vehicle, and the crew closed out the incident around 9:12 a.m. that next morning.
“He was cold and tired after spending all night on the river in that lightning storm, but he was OK. We were all just glad that we were able to find him and get him off the river,” Duke said.
The incident is just one of many that shows just how important Ozark County’s local volunteer fire departments and first responders are. The departments, which the exception of Gainesville VFD which operates in Gainesville city limits, are not funded by a tax base in any way and rely on both fundraisers and residents paying yearly dues. If you are unsure how to pay dues or which fire department district your home is located in, contact Ozark County Fire Chief’s Association Vice President Khristie Jacquin at firstname.lastname@example.org, who can help.