Off-duty Firefighter Helps with Rescue of Pa. Tuber

July 21, 2013
Nate Wolfe, a trained firefighter, was in the group when the teen got in trouble on the Delaware River.

July 21--A day that started with fun on the Delaware River nearly cost a Pocono teen her life Friday.

Abby Ortiz, 18, of Stroudsburg just graduated this year from the Lehigh Learning Academy and was out enjoying the water with her youth group from Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church.

The 40-person group rented tubes to take out onto a stretch of the river. But Abby soon discovered she was lagging behind the rest of her friends as they floated downstream, and although a leader tried to remain behind, she soon found herself alone because of the current and crying in fear.

Because Abby is heavyset and the life jacket was small, she was advised to leave one of the straps unbuckled. When her flip-flop came off and she reached to grab it, she capsized, losing her life jacket in the process.

Abby said that, although she knows how to swim, her legs began cramping and she was panicking and screaming as she started to drown.

No one was around to hear her.

"By some act of God, I started praying and my life vest floated back to me," she said.

Otherwise, Abby said, she would have drowned.

Finally floating on the vest, Abby said she was still in immense pain as she fought to get to the side of the river onto a rock. There, she began crying.

"This person said, 'Are you all right?'" Abby said.

A group of five people, out on the river in rafts, saw her and immediately came to her aid.

Nate Wolfe, a trained firefighter who has experience in water rescue, was in the group. He jumped into the water and swam to her when she told him she needed help. The group then retrieved her tube, helped her back into it, and secured her with a rope to their rafts.

Wolfe later did a back flip off his raft to cheer her up as the group talked with her over the next 45 minutes on the water.

"'You're not going to be alone. I promise. We will make sure you get help,'" Abby said one her rescuers, Currie Kulp, assured her.

Meanwhile, Abby said members of her group were panicking downstream. A group leader waited along a bank for 40 minutes when they got separated but never saw her, eventually she continued downstream to try to get help.

Leaders alerted the company about the situation, but her father, Charles Ortiz, said he does not understand why no one called 911 or the U.S. Coast Guard.

As a veteran of the Coast Guard himself, Charles said, "Water is very serious." He added that he did not blame the church group, but instead the company that supplied the tubes. The name of the company was not immediately available Saturday.

Abby said her parents didn't know what happened until she returned home, where her mother began crying and called her rescuers to thank them.

"It feels good to be able to help someone," Wolfe said. "Any time you help someone, it feels good."

Abby said she is still recovering from severe aches. Still, with plans to eventually study elementary education, she said she learned something, too.

"I'm just kind of happy to be alive," she said, and happy to have met new friends. "I have so much left to do in this world."

Copyright 2013 - Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa.

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