BREAKING: Rescue effort in Huntington Gorge
Quiet day in the newsroom. I was catching up on office work, archiving weeks of photos onto our server, meticulously selecting favorite photos for my own collection, future clip contests and reviews. Mind-numbing work. But, quiet days usually end with busy nights. Be wary of the lull. At 4:15pm a scanner tone out said two men were struggling in the Huntington Gorge. As with any breaking situation, I grabbed my gear and hit the road. By the time I was on scene, fire and rescue crews from Huntington, Richmond and Bolton were responding to two men who were unable to navigate through the swollen current in the Huntington Gorge. Securing my hip pack, I climbed over the guard rail to seek out a good vantage point. Navigating the rocky woods with my 300mm and monopod proved difficult. Poison ivy. Everywhere. Thankful for my hiking boots today as I watched dressed up TV reporters and anchors scramble with heels, skirts and ballet flats. Ouch. Once I found a safe place I telescoped my monopod and watched. One man grasped the rock ledge with his finger tips. He cried out that he was losing his grip, that his arms were numb, they felt like jelly. Minutes later Colchester Technical Rescue, a highly trained extreme condition rescue crew, was on scene and devising a strategy.
Ryan Fazekas, 25, of Wolcott was in a bad position. Alternating grips when he could, Ryan would pump his arms to recirculate blood to alleviate what I can only imagine to be incredibly sharp or numbing pain in his arms. He looked up, he squinted, he shouted. A member of Richmond Rescue shouted “Five more minutes Ryan. Hang on!” Five minutes became 10.
Ryan’s wife watched from a safe location inside the gorge while the crew from Colchester Technical Rescue worked. Ryan would climb slowly up the rock face only to slip back down into the water. 20 minutes had gone by. He gritted his teeth as he adjusted his grip. Fellow swimmers gathered along the roadside to watch the incredible, and impressive, rescue effort. Colchester Technical Rescue chief Mike Cannon was outfitted in a harness and ready to repel.
Slowly Cannon approached Ryan and warned him not to grab onto him or else risk both of their safety. Cannon dipped into the water and attempted to wrap a harness around Ryan. The current delayed this effort and failed Cannon’s first few attempts. At one point Ryan lost grip of the rock face and with a panicked expression stretched his fingertips back to his original location. The two swung and bobbed together until they were attached and slowly lifted to safety. When I felt that the rescue was nearly complete and would end successfully I hiked from my vantage point back to the roadway to capture the reunion. Ditching my 300mm and monopod as I ran down the road to switch on a 70-200mm was a good move as Ryan reached land just as I arrived.
With a fleeting smile, due to complete and utter exhaustion I’m sure, Ryan slowly walked through the mass of rescue workers that aided in the effort. His arms hung. His eyes empty. He looked beat and tired.
These two young men are incredibly fortunate to have survived today. According to our Burlington Free Press article with reporting by Joel Banner Baird and Matt Ryan, eighteen people have died swimming or diving at the gorge during the past 40 years. A sign warns swimmers and divers of the danger in those waters but every year we respond to breaking situations like this. These two were lucky today. Very lucky.
Complete Burlington Free Press photo gallery: Two men rescued from Huntington Gorge