Shining moments: River rescue

I was an adult chaperon for a youth group on a one-day float trip down a section of the Salmon River near Riggins, Idaho, on July 3, 1993.

The day dawned cold and rainy with the river water temperature around 40 degrees. We had 40 people to share five inflatable boats. The boats were inflated and the group was divided into five crews. Then the boats were put in the water and the trip began.After floating for a short time, we came across a fairly big stretch of rapids. The boat I was in was the fourth to go through, and as we hit the rapid, Spencer Smith and I were thrown into the water. After bouncing around in the water for a short time, we got back on board. Because of what we had just experienced, I decided to wait and see how the last boat handled the rapid, so I steered our boat out of the main current and into a back eddy.

The last boat hit the rapid and five people were thrown out. All except Tiana Andrews, then 16 years old, were eventually able to get back into the boat. Tiana was pulled into a swifter current and floated ahead of her boat. Then, as the boat approached her, it got into a fast current and was soon ahead of her. Tiana went through a couple of rapids and got caught in an eddy. She tried to swim out but was too tired to fight the strong current because of what she had already been through.

Realizing that Tiana was going to need help getting out of the river, we beached our boat. Spencer, 15 years old at the time, took our throw-line and ran up the shore to Tiana. She was too far from the bank of the river to be reached by a rope.

By the time I got there, Spencer was already swimming toward Tiana. She later said that when he reached her, she was so scared that she started grabbing at him. He was still able to pull her out of the current and toward the shore. When they got close enough, a U.S. Forest Service ranger who had arrived on the scene threw a rope to the pair and pulled them in.

Spencer's act was totally unselfish. He entered the water without hesitation, motivated by his concern for Tiana's safety. By the time he reached her, Tiana had been in the cold water for more than 20 minutes and was showing signs of hypothermia.

Spencer played the key role rescuing Tiana from a dangerous and possibly life-threatening situation. He received the Honor Medal from the Boy Scouts of America for his actions.

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