Dozen Rescued by Copter from Shenandoah River


Twelve people were rescued from the raging waters of the Shenandoah River late Sunday when two Maryland State Police helicopters hoisted them to safety.

Police said the stranded victims included 10 children and two adults, ranging in age from 4 to 41 years old. The identities of those involved haven't been released.

Shortly before 10 p.m. Sunday, Jefferson County Fire and Rescue received a call from someone who heard people screaming for help in the Shenandoah River near Bull Falls, not far from Harpers Ferry.

The Friendship Fire Department responded to the scene and found that the raging waters and large number of rocks in the river at that location prevented any type of rescue by boat or rope line. The fire department called for help from the Maryland State Police Aviation Command.

Trooper 3 from Frederick was dispatched to the scene, with pilot Russ Zullick and flight paramedic Sgt. Donald Lehman on board. When the crew arrived on scene, they called for Trooper 5 from Cumberland to assist with hoist operations.

Police said the scene was dark and dangerous. A mountain was on one side of the river bank and trees were along the river on the other side. There were also trees growing from rock islands in the middle of the river, police said.

Using their spotlight to illuminate the area below, the crew of Trooper 3 began their rescues with victims clinging to a rock that was only one foot above the river rapids. The children were being splashed by the water and appeared to be in imminent danger of hypothermia and exposure.

Hovering over the scene, pilot Zullick and Sgt. Lehman dropped the rescue basket to the rocks four times and hoisted five victims into the helicopter. The victims were flown to an elementary school in Harpers Ferry where they were turned over to fire and EMS personnel.

Trooper 5 from Cumberland arrived on the scene, with the crew of pilot Scott Russell, training pilot Chris Pysz, and flight paramedic Trooper First Class Larry Levasseur. Also on board were two members of the Cumberland Fire Department HEAT Team who are trained in aerial rescue operations.

While Trooper 3 was off-loading patients, the crew of Trooper 5 took over rescue operations for the remaining victims. Levasseur repeatedly dropped the rescue basket to the victims who were clinging to rocks throughout the river. Three more victims were taken to the landing zone for treatment and Trooper 5 returned to the river and hoisted the remaining four victims to safety.

All of the victims are expected to survive the ordeal. It is believed the group had been rafting or tubing in the river when the fast moving rapids caused them to become stranded on the rocks.

Copyright 2009 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.