SAR boat sinks during rescue on the Yellowstone River last Friday

Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, July 19, 2018
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SAR photo by Chad Arnold
 A member of Stillwater County Search and Rescue retrieves ropes from the downed tree that snagged an 18-year-old man last Friday. It is also the where a boat being used by SAR capsized and sunk during the same rescue operation.

A life-threatening emergency on the Yellowstone River last Friday turned into a double rescue when a boat being operated by Search and Rescue crews capsized and sank.

At 1:37 p.m., an 18-year-old man called 911 to report he and four other people with him were hung up in a tree after their personal flotation devices overturned at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Stillwater rivers, said Stillwater County Sheriff Cliff Brophy.

“He (the caller) was in a life-threatening situation in the water, pinned against a tree and believed he was going to drown,” said Brophy.

The teenager was difficult to understand because his cell phone was in a dry case, but authorities were able to pinpoint his location using the Enhanced 911 system.

Search and Rescue (SAR), Columbus Fire Rescue (CFR) and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Warden Paul Luepke responded. Luepke and Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger launched in an FWP boat from Itch-Kep-Pe Park.

The SAR boat was in the shop being repaired, so a SAR member volunteered the use of his private boat for the rescue operation and launched from the Holmgren Fishing Access, said Brophy.

Things went from bad to worse when the private boat being operated by SAR apparently got too close to the downed tree while trying to get a swift-water swimmer as close as possible to the teenager in the water, said Brophy.

The private boat turned sideways in the river, capsized and sank, said Brophy.

The SAR boat operator, as well as two victims that the boat had already picked up, were rescued by Luepke’s boat.

Brophy said all five victims were wearing life vests and checked over by CFR. The group, who was from California, had tied their personal floating devices together and had one oar.

Brophy also said a review of the incident will be conducted.