Man rescued in town of Colton with assistance of Fort Drum helicopters

From: Director Matthew R. Denner,
St. Lawrence County Office of Emergency Services

Date: May 26, 2022

Re: Rescue Operations in Town of Colton

Narrative: At 8:11 pm on May 25th, 2022, St Lawrence County 911 operators received a call from a 40s male that had been kayaking all day on the Raquette River, was exhausted and could not move his legs. Victim was wearing a black wet suit and black shirt and possessed a whistle and cell phone with 53% battery life. His location was pinged by 911 and the location was relayed to first responders. Colton and Cranberry Lake Volunteer Fire departments were dispatched. The victim then asked the dispatcher if it was a good idea if he should start a fire. Dispatchers told victim that it was a good idea for a controlled fire. Command post was set up on the side of State Highway 56 in Town of Colton just south of State Highway 3 under a joint incident command of Colton Fire Chief Aaron Johnson (05-01) and Cranberry Lake Fire Chief Chris Backus (06-01). Forest Rangers were requested to respond to the command post. After a joint conference on scene, IC requested a County Fire Coordinator be dispatched to scene and St Lawrence County Car 1 was dispatched and checked enroute to the command post within minutes.

Communication was established with first responders and the victim via cell phone. The decision was made for an immediate extrication due to the fear of the victim’s health deteriorating. The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division was called for support to local first responders on scene after they have exhausted every avenue of a successful rescue. A short venting process was made on Fort Drum’s end and three choppers were in the air at 11:00 pm. Fort Drum dispatched three Black Hawk and two Apache helicopters. Grid coordinates and victim cell phone number were relayed to the responding aviation units from St Lawrence County 911.

Potsdam Rescue were put on standby and CPH was notified that possibly Fort Drum medics were going to transport patient to the Potsdam Airport and then to CPH.

At 11:35 pm, three Fort Drum helicopters passed over the command post headed to victim’s location. The location passed on from 911 was spot on and Fort Drum’s Apaches were able to locate patient with in minutes. Apaches are equipped with state of the art equipment in locating individuals. At that time, the Black Hawk was moved into position to perform a rescue. The Black Hawk crew communicated with the victim via text and was asked by the flight crew to extinguish his fire for fear of the prop wash spreading fire which could result in a forest fire. After that time, a crew member was lowered 175’ down to package the patient and hoist back up to safety. Once in the Black Hawk, Fort Drum Medics made the decision to transport patient to Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, for treatment for dehydration, hypothermia, and shock. IC was then notified at 12:04 am
that a successful rescue was made. At 12:30 am command post was demobilized and units started checking back into service. At 01:30 am a debriefing was conducted between St Lawrence County Car 1 and Fort Drum flight crew.

I would like to personally thank our two 911 dispatch shifts that were involved. They did an amazing job and a great line of communication with all involved were established. Both Colton and Cranberry Lake Fire and Rescue units, their training, professionalism, and dedication never goes unnoticed. NYS Forest Rangers with their support to our local first responders. Fort Drum their continued support to the neighboring communities, this successful rescue would not have happened last night and this morning without them.