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Boy rescued from island in fast river

Jun 24, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A crew from the Riverton Fire Protection District rescued a young boy from an island in the fast-moving Little Wind River on Monday.

They delivered the child, Trulan Oldman, 10, safely to his mother waiting on shore.

Oldman and four other children were wading across the river from north to south west of the Gas Hills Road bridge just before noon that day when the current swept them away. The others were carried downstream to the south bank, but Oldman was deposited on a small grassy island in the middle.

The river is still running faster and deeper than usual as seasonal runoff continues.

"It was way too deep. They lost their footing, and the water took them away," Fremont County Undersheriff Ryan Lee said.

Lee was driving down Gas Hills Road when he saw the kids start to cross the river. Knowing fording the stream was unsafe, he pulled his truck around.

"I was going to talk to them about it, but by the time I got back the one kid was in distress," Lee said.

He told the boy to stay on the island while he called for Riverton Fire's water rescue team.

"There was really no way to get to him without a boat," he said.

A U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge at a fixed location noted the Little Wind's depth at about 3.1 feet and flow at about 500 cubic feet per second during the rescue. The river's depth at the spot of the incident might have been deeper.

The Wind River Police Department also responded and led law enforcement aspects of the operation. A Fremont County Ambulance arrived on scene but was not needed. About 20 minutes after the first call, Riverton Fire's water rescue unit arrived and began inflating a 15-foot-long rubber raft.

Rescuers Matt Lee, Nate Lee and Brian Hutchins donned wetsuits and helmets and launched the raft with the help of a shore crew, including Dave Witthar, Cory Higgs, Ron Caines, Kim Wells and Riverton fire chief Mike Hutchinson.

Assistant chief Scott Walters said Riverton fire personnel train for exactly this type of scenario, called a swift-water rescue.

While those on shore held a rope tethered to the boat, the three in the raft paddled through the strong current for about 30 feet before landing on the island.

After the boat was already underway, however, a woman came onto the scene, saw the child on the island, and rushed to try to help. She ran down the bank, calling to the boy, and waded into the water. The boy started toward her but remained on the island before a WRPD officer and Fremont County Sheriff's deputy, concerned for her and the boy's safety, rushed in and stopped the woman. She was cursing as they led her in handcuffs to an WRPD vehicle.

Once on the island, one rescuer helped Oldman put on a life jacket and climb into the boat. The three men sat astride the inflated sides and rear of the boat and paddled it swiftly back to shore with the help of those on land pulling on the rope.

Walters walked the boy up the bank before his mother rushed in and swooped him up in a hug.

Oldman was calm throughout the ordeal until he reached his mother's arms, when his emotions overcame him and he burst into tears.

"He probably got a little upset. On the other hand, he probably was pretty happy," Walters said.

WRPD did not return a request for information on the detained woman.

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