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Daring river rescue saves three

Illuminated by floodlight and secured by ropes, one of the swimmers prepares to secure a victim to be hauled from the river.

Sun Advocate reporter

An early morning swift water rescue saved the lives of three Layton residents Friday as Carbon County fire and rescue teams converged on a pickup truck that had left the road and plunged down a cliff-side into the swollen Price River.

John Dunkley, 65, reportedly fell asleep at the wheel of his 2000 Dodge Dakota while traveling eastbound on U.S. 6. The truck carrying Dunkley, his 62-year-old wife Kathleen and their seven-year-old grandson, crossed over the westbound lane, through a guard fence and down the steep bank. The child's name was not released.

The Dakota was towing a trailer loaded with ATVs and rafts, which became separated on impact.

The truck floated downstream about 30 yards, until it sank and grounded itself beneath the concrete arch bridge that spans the river.

After receiving the initial page at 12:05 a.m., Carbon County Public Safety teams including Helper's Rescue 3, Price Fire, the Price Police, the Carbon County Sheriff's Office and the Carbon County Search and Rescue's Swift Water Team deployed nets below the Carbon Country Club Golf Course before attempting a person-to-person rescue in the surging Price River.

"We needed those nets for safety, in case something happened and we lost a rescuer or a victim," said Helper Fire Capt. Gary Harwood. "After they were deployed, we put in one swimmer at a time, tied off and with a rope and harness for each victim."

Harwood reported that the operation went "pretty slick" from that point on as rescuers Jason Bennett of Carbon County and Helper Fire's Brandon Wise went in one at a time bring out all three victims.

According to Wise, who was the first swimmer in, the river was moving at an incredible pace, roaring with a torrential flow of icy spring run-off.

"That water was racing," said Wise, who reported being in the bone-chilling river for nearly 45 minutes during the rescue. "I missed the truck on my initial pass due to the water's speed and had to come back for a second try."

Wise removed the seven-year-old first and was transported with the minor to Castleview Hospital for treatment of minor injuries as well as hypothermia assessment.

"That kid was really pretty tough," quipped Wise. "He wasn't nearly as scared as he should have been. He never cried and he calmed right down as soon as we got out of the water."

According to those in charge at the scene, all three victims were calm throughout the rescue.

"Amazingly, all three victims appeared to suffer only minor injuries," said Harwood. "We have some great rescue officers who put their training to good use."

Harwood did stipulate that the 65-year-old driver did have some prior hip injury issues which made his removal from the vehicle and icy water all the more difficult.

"Again the swiftness of the water and the darkness were working against us," concluded Wise. "But we all worked together out there, all the agencies that responded and that made this a very smooth rescue under some very difficult circumstances."

The truck was still beneath the bridge Monday. Officials said it was not possible to remove it because of the high water.

Meanwhile, the rescue did come as a learning experience for the responders. "Rescue 3 definitely needs longer ropes," commented Helper Mayor Dean Armstrong. He also said the city may look into the purchase of a flat-bottom boat, which would make any future rescues speedier and less risky for responders and victims.

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