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Rescuers honored for lifesaving

Staff writer

Without the fast action of emergency workers, the two drownings this spring at Marion Reservoir could have been tripled.

On Aug. 3, the Army Corps of Engineers recognized park rangers Kyle Manwaring and Traci Robb, summer ranger Jake Riley, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism Natural Resources Officer Marvin Peterson, and Marion County Deputy Sheriff Mike Ottensmeier for their work rescuing four boaters in April and May.

Riley said he was surprised to receive the award. When he was told he had to be at the project office to meet with a safety officer from the Tulsa District office, he assumed it was a sign of trouble.

The first rescue was on April 29. With sustained winds of 45 mph, rescuers were dispatched to a capsized boat on the reservoir. Ottensmeier said there was a time when he wondered whether the rescue boats would be able to make their way back to the boat ramps in the wind.

“I was on the radio with Traci, and we decided to launch two boats,” Peterson said Friday. “We were dealing with at least 5-foot swells that day.”

In most cases, only one boat would have gone, he said.

They made their way across the lake to the overturned boat. One victim was clinging to the boat, and another was in the water.

“They did have their lifejackets on, thankfully,” Peterson said.

He and Ottensmeier went to pick up the victim on the boat, while Robb and Manwaring retrieved the victim in the water. On the way to the capsized boat, Peterson’s boat propeller hit a rock and lost power.

“We were kind of at the mercy of the wind at that point,” he said.

With the size of the waves, rescuing the boater was risky, Peterson said. If they didn’t time things right, the bow of the rescue boat could have smashed down on the victim. He said Ottensmeier did a great job grabbing the victim on the first attempt.

“We couldn’t have done that right again if we tried,” Ottensmeier said.

Both rescuers gave each other credit for making such a difficult rescue possible.

“I was awfully glad to have Mike on the boat that day,” Peterson said.

“Marv couldn’t have aimed that boat any better,” Ottensmeier said. “He put the boat right where that guy was.”

Robb and Manwaring rescued the boater in the water without as much drama, he said. The boat that still had power towed the other boat back to safety.

“It’s a good thing we had two boats out there,” Peterson said.

They couldn’t find the third victim, 70-year-old Carl Elder of Hutchinson, who drowned that day.

Peterson was also involved in a rescue May 29. He and Riley were dispatched to tow a stranded boat to safety. It was another gusty day, with winds of 30 mph. A man and a woman were out on the reservoir with their boat for the first time. They struck a rock and lost power, much like Peterson did the month before.

Unlike before, their boat was still upright in the water. Riley had to get into the water to tie a tow rope to the stranded boat, and rode with the visitors while Peterson towed them.

On the way back to a boat ramp, a series of big waves flipped the boat Riley was in and threw the passengers into the water. The man panicked, but Riley did his best to calm him while Peterson maneuvered to pull them out of the water.

It was difficult to maneuver in the wind, and the tow rope got tangled in Peterson’s boat propeller. He cut the rope loose and they eventually made their way back to safety.

After these events, officials spent a lot of time evaluating rescue procedures. One change they made is that in rough weather, they will send two boats on rescues whenever possible.

Peterson said he has worked with the reservoir 28 years and never seen such a rash of boating accidents.

“The first one I was involved in was one of the most harrowing experiences,” he said.

Riley said the incidents showcased the importance of wearing lifejackets that fit properly. In both cases, wearing lifejackets saved people’s lives, he said.

Last modified Aug. 18, 2011

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