Tuesday, 15 Apr 2008
ST. CROIX – According to the Washington County Fire Department dive team, water rescues are rare. Usually by the time divers locate a submerged vehicle, the operation turns into a recovery effort.
Not so the case on Sunday night when an SUV drove off a service road into the St. Croix River. As a new member of the Washington Co. dive team, 25-year-old Jonas Werpy was the first diver on the scene and into the water.
"Everyone was under water from what I saw, there was no air pocket that was visible from where I was,” said Werpy. "In those conditions there was really nothing that I was seeing."
In the dark he broke the rear window of the SUV, and reached inside to make the rescue. He reached for the nearest person, pulling a woman out before going back down twice to retrieve another woman and a man.
"It was numbingly cold where it was very difficult to function in the water,” said Werpy. Tim Bell retrieved the last victim from the water. "To have an incident where we actually get 4 people out and are able to reestablish pulse it was a great moment for all of us,” said Bell.
Since then, two of the victims have died. 28-year-old Mohanraj Pothiraj was pronounced dead Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday night, Rohini Krishnamurthy, 27, was pronounced dead. The two other victims hospitalized are 25-year-old Deepa Veluswamy and 25-year-old Kalai Selvi Vijaya Kumar, in critical condition at Regions Hospital.
Washington County created the dive team 15 years ago. They’ve been training for situations like this since 1992.
SUV occupants called 911 while sinking in St. Croix; one dies
4/14/2008 8:15:27 PM
STILLWATER, Minn. -- The occupants of an SUV frantically called 911 for help as it sank in the chilly St. Croix River, saying they couldn't get out, couldn't swim and were afraid of drowning, a transcript released Monday shows.
One man died and three women were injured. All four of the victims were from India, police said. Their hometowns were not immediately released.
Police identified the dead man as Mohanraj Pothiraj, 28. He died Monday at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
The injured women are Rohini Krishnamurthy, 27; Kalai Selvi Vijaya Kumar, 25, who both were in critical condition at Regions; and Deepa Veluswamy, 25; who was in serious condition.
The Hyundai Crossover SUV went into the river about 10 p.m. Sunday about a quarter-mile north of the Stillwater Lift Bridge, and it was not clear why.
Stillwater Police Chief John Gannaway could not say which direction the SUV was headed or what the occupants of the vehicle were doing. He said at this point, police do not believe alcohol was involved.
The SUV was submerged, upright, in about 6 feet of water about 30 to 40 feet from shore. Rescue divers broke the SUV's windows and pulled the passengers out after receiving 911 calls.
Police released transcripts of two 911 calls received from the SUV. In the first exchange, a dispatcher asked if the door could be opened or a window kicked out.
"Our car is going to submerge in the next 10 minutes," a man in the SUV told the dispatcher.
"Can you kick the window out at all?" the dispatcher asked.
"No, we can't open the window. We can't open the window," he said.
"I understand that. Can you kick it? Can you kick it with your foot?"
"No, we can't do anything. It's freezing water."
In the second 911 call, a female caller told the dispatcher, "Hello, we don't know swimming. Our car is submerging. ...
"The door is got stuck and we can't open, our fingers are frozen."
The vehicle was underwater about 10 or 15 minutes before its occupants were pulled out, Capt. Chris Zeuli of the Stillwater Fire Department said.
Rescue workers were "feeling their way around to get to the passengers," Stillwater Fire Chief Stuart Glaser said.
The SUV had crashed through trees and went into the river near docks belonging to the St. Croix Yacht Club.
Photographer Brian Andren, who runs a studio in downtown Stillwater, grabbed his camera and made his way to the scene, which is about a block east of Main Street. He arrived just after rescue divers pulled the passengers out of the submerged vehicle.
"There were a lot of people running around and hollering to people on the dock," Andren said. "But the rescue looked pretty well organized."
Authorities from Washington County and the Stillwater Police Department will lead the investigation. The State Patrol has been called in to help with accident reconstruction, said Lt. Mark Peterson, patrol spokesman.
A steady stream of onlookers drove by and stopped at the scene Monday. Brush and branches marked the spot where the car went into the water.
"It's so sad," Glenda Mooney of White Bear Lake said.
In September 2006, a mother and a daughter were killed when the car they were riding in drove off the Stillwater Lift Bridge while its lift section was raised. The driver of that vehicle was rescued. She told authorities that the car's brakes failed.
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04-15-2008, 11:40 PM #1
Heroes' Perspective of St. Croix Submerged Vehicle Rescue
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