SUWANEE - A day trip tubing down the Chattahoochee River turned into a dramatic rescue effort Wednesday, as firefighters retrieved two people trapped in the rising water.
Firefighters from both Forsyth and Gwinnett counties responded to a distress call near Settles Bridge Park in Suwanee.
A man, a woman and two teenage girls had been tubing together when water was released from the dam. Seeing the water level rise, the woman panicked and latched onto a tree at the side of the river. The other adult, her brother, stayed behind with her, said Thomas Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department.
Spotting the adults in distress, three boys who were also tubing down the Chattahoochee stopped to assist them. Together, they were able to help free the woman from the tree. Then they waited with them for more help to arrive.
"Between the different organizations, it really went very smoothly," said Capt. Wayne Chewning of the swiftwater rescue team. "Probably the biggest heroes in this would be those three young men. Those boys did an outstanding job."
Meanwhile, the two girls continued down in their tubes to the drop-off point, calling out for help. A neighbor called 911, and the swiftwater firefighters arrived on the scene.
The rescue team deployed two Jet Skis into the water to get as close as they could to the victims. Just 10 minutes after arriving at the scene, the firefighters retrieved them from the river. Rutledge guessed they had been in the water about a half-hour before being rescued.
"The message in all of this is to stay calm and have a plan if you get into distress, to do exactly what these people did: Call for help," Rutledge said.
As of press time, Rutledge said he did not know the names or hometowns of the rescued tubers. He said one of the teenage girls was the man's daughter, and that he suspected the other girl was her friend.
The woman was taken to the Northside Hospital-Forsyth to be treated for non-life-threatening water-related exposure. Had the victims been there longer, the cold water temperatures could have caused hypothermia. Though the water in the river is usually gentle, it can be dangerous when it is regenerating via the dam, Chewning said.
"The situation that you have with the Chattahoochee is that the water coming out of the river is very cold. It's about 55 degrees. The human body is not set up to be in that temperature of water for a long period of time," Chewning said.