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3 canoeists rescued from Blue River

April 09, 2008
Three men were rescued from the swift-running Blue River on Saturday by Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officers after their canoe was destroyed, stranding them midstream on a large tree root.

The three men — Zachary Dickland, 22, from West Lafayette, owner of the canoe, and Matthew Cerasale, 22, and Arthur Nisnevich, 22, both of Indianapolis — launched the canoe at Daughtery Lane north of Milltown with intentions of making a 20-mile trip downriver to property owned by a family member to Dickland. However, a little more than four miles into the trip, the Blue River had other ideas.

"I was in the Corydon area when I got a call from Crawford County dispatch at 6:06 p.m.," Conservation Officer Dennis Talley said. "The men had made it down to the Totten Ford area, where the river widens out. There's a chute down both sides, and the middle of the river is a little shallower.

"Their canoe had gotten sideways with the current and was pushed into a tree in the river. The canoe, a 16-foot Old Town canoe, sunk almost immediately and was pretty much destroyed. The current flushed the men out of the drift pile, and they ended up about 40 yards downstream, marooned on an old root wad that was sticking up above the water."

Talley and Conservation Officer Terry Allen arrived at 6:24 p.m. Allen had his rescue boat and trailer with him, and the two officers managed to launch the boat into the water from the steep bank at Totten Ford. They were able to get to the men and rescued them at 6:57 p.m.

"At the time, the water temperature was about 50 degrees," Talley said, "and the air temperature was 47 degrees, so they were in the first stages of hypothermia. The river was running pretty fast, but the root wad they were on caused the current to go down each side of it, and that created a little eddy, which allowed us to get close enough to get them into the boat.

"All three refused medical attention and seemed to be OK after we got them out of the river," Talley continued. "The men actually had prepared pretty well for the trip. They all had personal floatation devices and were wearing them. One of the guys had a cell phone and was able to make a call to 911 Dispatch, which did a great job of getting us to the right place. The men also had a GPS, and 911 Dispatch was able to get GPS coordinates."

Talley said the men weren't familiar with the river, but had gotten a lot of information off the Internet and had planned to make the 20-mile trip before dark on Saturday evening.

"I told them that they would never have made the trip by dark," Talley said. "There was a major obstacle between them and their destination that they were not aware of — the dam at Milltown.

"If they had made it that far, there could have been an even worse situation. It's possible that they wouldn't have seen the dam until it was too late. With that much current, it could have been really bad," he added.

"They had talked to some people they saw in kayaks who mentioned the dam, but they didn't take the warning seriously. A canoe loaded with three men and their gear couldn't have had much freeboard, so I doubt if they would have fared well at the dam."

Talley and Allen were assisted by Crawford County Sheriff Tim Wilkerson and deputies Jeff Howell and Jerry Conrad and the Milltown Volunteer Fire Department.

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