A rescue crew battled a strong current with little light to get three out-of-town fishermen to safety Tuesday after their boat engine became lodged in a sand dredge.
Washington Fire Chief Tim Frankenberg said firefighters were dispatched at 8:07 p.m. to the Missouri River just east of the Highway 47 bridge.
The boaters had run out of gas in the 18-foot Lund fishing boat and attempted to get the boat to shore.
Frankenberg explained the motor got stuck on a steel piece of the sand dredge attached to a barge, adding the steel helped to keep the boat afloat.
“If they had struck the face of a barge, I am not sure the outcome would have been as good,” he said. “They were 7 feet from the base of the barge itself.”
The men called 911 from a cellphone while on the boat.
The fire department put its boat in the water, as well as a second boat owned by one of the firefighters. The Boles Fire Protection District also provided a boat and three firefighters to aid in the rescue. The Missouri State Water Patrol was requested but did not respond to the scene.
According to Frankenberg, crews suspended a ladder from a Franklin County Concrete tugboat, and a crew of six to seven firefighters conducted a “top-down rescue.”
The rescue team rigged the three boaters with rope and then they were brought into the tugboat.
“The boat was taking water,” Frankenberg said. “There was a lot of debris and tree limbs in the river. A lot of it was hitting the barge.
“The current at the face of the barge was very strong,” he added. “The debris was actually getting pulled under the barge.”
He added the three fishermen were wearing life jackets when the fire crews got to the scene.
Due to the position of the boat, and the location on the river, the only illumination available to firefighters was handheld flashlights until the tugboat arrived.
“It definitely was a challenge. It was extremely dark,” Frankenberg commented. “It was precarious where on the river the boat was, and that it was against the dredge.”
The boaters, from the area of Mexico, Mo., were safely on the shore shortly after 9:30 p.m. He said the men were checked by the Washington Ambulance District personnel and refused medical treatment.
In all, there were 18 Washington firefighters and three from the Boles district who took part in the rescue.
Because it was so dark and the current was strong, fire officials considered a “helicopter pickoff” to rescue the men.
Frankenberg said this is the first rescue of this sort in his more than 23-year career with the fire company.
“We have had boats getting sucked under a barge but not a dredge,” he said.
Frankenberg credited the firefighters’ familiarity with the river and the dredge.
“When they are out on the water they go down and look at these things,” he said, “so, there was some familiarity — at least enough to know what to look for in this type of hazard.”