Tip Top Search and Rescue

Boulder Falls Rescue 6-25-17

A step of fate

 © 2017-Pinedale Roundup

Pinedale man ‘miraculously’ survives raging river

BOULDER CANYON – A Pinedale man is lucky to be alive after a harrowing experience Sunday evening that left him battered and bruised following a treacherous fall into Boulder Creek.

“We were pretty leery that we were going to get that call sometime this spring and it came,” said Kenna Tanner, coordinator for Tip Top Search and Rescue – the agency ultimately called in to rescue the man via helicopter short-haul. “It’s pretty amazing he’s here with us. I don’t think things could have worked out any better than they did.”

On Sunday afternoon, 27-year-old Josh Anderson and his wife Jessica were enjoying a hike together on the trail system up Boulder Canyon past Boulder Lake Lodge. About 3 miles up the trail, they reached a set of falls on Boulder Creek – a cascading stretch of water “riddled with boulders” that drops about 100 feet in a rapid succession of steep steps – and took a rest at the top of the falls before exploring some river rocks near the water’s edge.

At about 4:45 p.m., they were making their way back to the riverbank when Josh decided to take a different route using a nearby log as a step.

“In that moment, I slipped off the log and went down into the water, right above the falls,” Josh said Wednesday. “Immediately, I was sucked under the water. … In that instant, I was convinced I was dead.

“Oh God, just let my family know that I love them,” he prayed.

Jessica lost sight of Josh almost immediately in the raging white water of the falls and she feared the worst – particularly in light of their four young children. She immediately called 911 using Josh’s cell phone, that happened to be in the backpack they brought.

Josh, meanwhile, was in survival mode and getting battered by the river boulders.

“I remember hitting my head and my legs pretty badly,” he said.

He remained conscious the whole time and was holding his breath as best as he could.

“Twice, I was able to get my head out of the water and gasp for breath before I was sucked back down again,” he said.

Before he knew it and through no effort of his own, Josh found himself pushed into an eddy – a reverse current created by an object in the water – behind a set of willows in the water below the falls.

“It was just a miracle I was able to pass through without significant injury,” he said. “For me to have even gotten to the narrowest part of the river and to the rocks – it was an extremely narrow chute and the only spot I would have had a chance for survival.”

He clung to the willows with his arms and legs, trying to catch his breath.

Next thing he knew, he was on a large nearby rock in the middle of the river, though he doesn’t exactly recall how he got there.

“I was able to somehow get to the rock and be perched upon the rock for the next three hours,” he said, adding that even the rock, itself, was another divine gift. “That rock has been sitting there for thousands of years and it even had a seat carved out of it.”

The large boulder also allowed him to stay out of the water, dry off and not suffer hypothermia from the frigid snowmelt.

Jessica frantically ran along the water’s edge for about 10 minutes before she was able to locate him more than 200 yards downriver from where he initially went into the water.

Due to the noise created by the rushing water, the two were unable to communicate verbally, so they used hand signals instead, which he used to tell her about his injuries.

“I found both my elbows were pretty bloody, legs and knees were battered, a substantial goose egg on my head,” he said.

She was able to tell him that help was on the way, and both were still trying to process what had just occurred.

“After the realization of what just happened, I was just so thankful to God to be alive and so thankful to be able to see my family again,” Josh said. “The fact I was able to get out of the river and be warm and dry – that was an amazing blessing as well.”

Not long after the couple was able to reconnect, three people on horseback happened to come by on their way back to Boulder Lake Lodge. Two stayed back to provide support while a third continued down the trail to meet first responders – including deputies with the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office, a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper, EMS and Tip Top Search and Rescue (TTSAR) personnel – and direct them to Josh’s location.

Over the next three hours, TTSAR coordinated the best approach to retrieving Josh from the river. Initially, they were going to use a “high line” across the river to ferry him to the bank.

“Once we got (TTSAR) members to his location, we realized just how potentially dangerous it was and how Plan A needed to be reconsidered, so we chose to do a short-haul rescue,” Tanner said.

TTSAR had, in fact, just returned that afternoon from training, so they were already staged.

“Our swift-water team had just returned from training that afternoon so everything lined up perfectly,” said Tanner, adding that the rescue helicopter and TTSAR personnel had also been practicing their short-haul rescues the day before. “It’s that time of year so we’re training hard to get everybody on top of their game with short-haul rescue.”

By about 8 p.m. on Sunday, helicopter pilot Jason Reschke flew in TTSAR rescuer Cody Wilson, who was dangling from the rescue line, and dropped him onto the rock with Josh.

Wilson got a life jacket on Josh and an extraction harness, and both men were carried to the staging area at the Boulder Lake Lodge, where they were met by EMS personnel.

“(Reschke) couldn’t have performed anymore on spot – of safely placing Cody on that rock and getting them off that rock without anybody getting wet,” said Tanner, while also lauding the coordinated efforts of TTSAR personnel, including swift-water team lead Kris Searles and short-haul team assistant manager Milford Lockwood.

Josh echoed the sentiment, thankful for the professionalism and expertise of TTSAR and Sublette County EMS personnel.

“They both did an excellent job,” he said.

Josh was ultimately taken to Sweetwater Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for “lots of road rash and several bumps and bruises.”

“My biggest concern is still my back,” said Josh, worried about a possible fracture.

But at the end of the day, he’s just happy to be alive and thankful to God for what he deemed his miraculous survival – whether it was the fact Jessica had cell service to make the 911 calls (all other responders to the scene had no service, according to Tanner), the narrow chute he was pushed through to the safety of the willows, the boulder that kept him out of the water, or the timing and recent training of the TTSAR personnel.

“It was a miracle,” Josh said.

And Tanner agreed.

“He had a lot of factors against him,” she said. “Statistics show, when you’re going over a waterfall like that, with the size of the boulders, it was an absolute miracle he came through, and the timing was perfect he was able to get to those willows.”

While thankful for the positive outcome, Tanner also used the opportunity to remind outdoor recreationalists to use caution around the county’s swollen waterways.

“Our waters are still at a dangerous level,” she said. “Even if they start to recede, they’re not safe and they’re not going to be safe for awhile.”