Robert Moses 5/29/96 Chena River Boating Drown

Officials Caution Against Rescue In Frigid Chena River

Associated Press, 6/2/96

Public safety officials are praising the lifesaving efforts of three residents who leapt into the frigid Chena River last month on two separate occasions to help others. But they caution against such moves.

''It's against human nature to allow someone else to die, to just sit there and watch while something is going on,'' said Fairbanks police Sgt. Dusty Johnson. But ''they shouldn't do it, unless it's warm enough to swim around,'' he added.

The risk comes as the cold water robs swimmers of strength, potentially creating two victims rather than a hero and a saved life.

When 34-year-old Andrew Wilson jumped into the Chena River on Wednesday after Robert Moses, who later drowned, he said his body became instantly numb. Wilson was still shivering 15 minutes later.

And Donald Carroll, the 15-year-old boy who jumped in before Wilson and managed to grab Moses' collar, said he was pulled underwater by the drowning man and had to retreat for his own safety.

The Chena River's temperature usually hovers between 36 and 44 degrees during the summer, officials said. In that temperature, they warn, limbs go numb in less than five minutes.

''We're not going to tell people not to try and save someone,'' Fairbanks fire Battalion Chief Scott Michaels said. ''Probably 90 percent of the guys here would jump in. But that's not to say that's a smart thing to do.''

The first incident came May 15, when Lenny Reagin tied a rope around his body and jumped after a woman who had gone in the river.

''That guy, in my mind, is a hero,'' Fire Capt. Alan Dick said.

Firefighter Tim Kelahan, who founded an independent river-rescue training organization called The Rescue Company, says it's not smart to go in after drowning victims in cold water. National statistics, he said, show that more people drown while trying to rescue others than from their own accidents.

In late May 1993, a Fairbanks man drowned when he jumped off a bluff to save a 7-year-old boy whose canoe had capsized in the Upper Chena River. Larry Gradney, 40 years old and a former lifeguard, passed Cary Dube to shore but was swept away by the current for five to 10 minutes, witnesses that day reported.

''The river has no respect for good intentions,'' Kelahan said. He suggests that people reach with a stick or rope from shore, even an extension cord or jumper cables, before leaping into the river. And they should only jump if they are wearing a flotation device, he said.

''You need something that's going to keep you up, because this person is going to push you down,'' he said, ''And to help you get back to shore, because the river isn't going to let you move nicely back.''