Floaters Survive Fast-Moving, Flooded Illinois River

Tuesday, June 23rd 2015, 6:42 pm
By: News On 6

Tropical Depression Bill sent the Illinois River nearly four feet above its normal levels, and the fast-moving current has nearly killed several people floating the river.

Over the last three days, one man drowned and four others had to be rescued from the water.

6/22/2015 Related Story: Flooded Illinois River Proving Dangerous For Floaters

Jerry Sien and his friends went to the Illinois River Sunday, looking forward to a fun day of rafting.

"It can change in just a split second the way it happened for us," he said.

Sien said once his group pulled over to rest, the rafts rammed into a rock and his friend fell in.

Before he knew it, he was also in the water clinging to some rocks near a bridge a quarter-mile downstream.

"In between there I was just up and down," he said.

Sien said his friend was pulled out by her husband after being trapped underneath the rafts.

The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission said all of the float companies on the river didn't operate Saturday when the river topped out at four feet above flood stage, but some companies did rent rafts for floaters Sunday when the river started receding.

Monday, with the high river conditions in mind, safety was a high priority for the Lockwood family at War Eagle Floats, but half way down the river their trip turned into a rescue mission when one of their rafts got stuck on a tree branch.

The family boat broke free from the branch, but another boat collided with them and dumped two teens into the water while family members tried to swim through the current and help them.

"Automatically that was the fear I guess, not knowing if they were under. I just knew that somebody had to help," floater Kenneth Lay said.

Rangers said a 19-year-old from the boat was swept two miles downstream and lost her lifejacket. Rescuers found her clinging to a tree.

The Lockwood family never thought their vacation would end up like this.

"It was just total shock at what happened. Everyone always thinks it never happens to me, and then to see it first hand and we were just grateful we did have our lifejackets on, it could've easily been us once we hit that tree," Marissa Powell said.

The teen pulled from the river was checked out at the hospital and is okay.

It's always a good idea to call your float operator before heading to the river.

The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission can't stress enough the importance of wearing a lifejacket.