Man rescued from sandbar

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Gary Zwickle pulls on a rescue rope as area first responders guide him to safety in a johnboat early Tuesday afternoon. Zwickle became stranded on a sandbar when heavy rain flooded the usually shallow Republican River.

A man trapped on a sandbar amid the swift currents of the Republican River south of Barnett Park along U.S. Highway 83, was rescued safely Tuesday morning.

About 20 rescue workers from the South Central Rope Rescue Team assisted the McCook Fire Department in securing the man, Gary Zwickle of McCook.

Zwickle, 63, has an apartment in McCook but lives part-time in a camper shell on an island in the river. McCook emergency rescue workers received numerous calls approximately 9 a.m. from residents concerned about Zwickle, said Diane Wilkinson, deputy of Red Willow County Emergency Management.

The torrent of rain unleashed Monday night and Tuesday morning caused the Republican River to overrun parts of Barnett park and made rescue difficult.

Because of the heavy rain, water from the Republican River surged over its banks and blocked the area where Zwickle was lodged, said Marc Harpham, McCook Fire Chief. Because of the swift moving water and the possibility of undercurrents, the South Central Rope Rescue Team was called in to provide their expertise in water safety rescue, he said, and under their direction, a canoe was guided by ropes to cross the water.

Members of the rope rescue team worked to secure a johnboat to allow personnel from the McCook Fire Department to reach the island, Harpham said.

By the time Zwickle was found, his camper was almost completely submerged, said Harpham.

Zwickle was helped into a canoe and brought back to emergency rescue workers standing by. He was cold and wet, but unharmed, said Harpham, and afterwards taken to a secure shelter by Barb Ostrum, coordinator with Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska.

The total rescue operation took about 50 minutes with more than 30 rescue responders on the scene, officials estimated.

Harpham and Red Willow County Sheriff Gene Mahon praised the timely response and skills of the Furnas County Rope Team that made the rescue smooth and successfully.

"This was a long and detailed operation," Harpham said. "Without these folks, it would not have been safe for our people. My hat is off to the South Central Rope Team."

The Rope Team includes members from various communities such as Minden, Beaver City, Oxford and Arapahoe and practice maneuvers each month.

"I felt that everybody did a good job, the rescue went well and no one was hurt," Mahon said, citing the success of the rescue due to cooperation between law enforcement agencies.

Those who assisted with the rescue included 18 members of the South Central Rope Rescue Team, Red Willow County Emergency Management, Red Willow County Sheriff's office, and the McCook Fire Department.

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