Off-duty Highway Patrol Officer leaps into Action in California Swift River Rescue Drama

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A California hiker who became stuck in a vortex of water is lucky to be alive thanks to the quick-thinking of an off-duty police officer who fashioned a makeshift device to pull him out from the violent current.

The 24-year-old man from Fresno, who has not been identified, had been hiking the secluded Angel Falls crossing along the Willow Creek Trail above Bass Lake in central California on Saturday afternoon, when he attempted to cross the water.

Dangerously mistaking its swiftness – which had been gushing between 50-80 feet per-second – the man quickly found himself overwhelmed and was swept up into a whirlpool that started dragging him beneath the surface.

But as luck would have it, as the terrifying scene was unfolding, off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer Brent Donley had been hiking near-by and raced over to the man’s aid.

Donley, who is trained in search and rescue, thought quickly on his feet and tied his backpack strap to a branch, creating an improvised harness.

With a group of good Samaritans holding onto his belt strap, Donley perched himself on the edge of the bank and tossed the rope towards the man.

Growing fatigued as the water thrashed violently around him, the man struggled to get ahold of the branch.

Finally, after the third attempt, he was able to firmly grip the device with both hands, where Donley hoisted the man to safety, with the help of one bystander.

‘The volume of water that moves every second is enormous,’ Donley told ABC News on Sunday. ‘People don't realize.’

Donley told the station the equipment he was working with wasn’t ideal, but he was relieved it held firm under the circumstances.

The officer’s wife, Christina Donley, captured the wild rescue in full on her cell phone.

Donley stayed with the man and performed first aid until a search and rescue team from the Madera County Sheriff’s Office and an emergency medical services crew arrived to treat the man for minor injuries.

In a statement regarding the incident of Facebook, the sheriff’s office advised the 24-year-old hiker to ‘buy a lottery ticket because today is his lucky day!’

‘We sincerely thank Officer Donley for his quick-thinking and preparedness,’ the statement continued. ‘This Search and Rescue call could have ended very badly if not for his help.’

The incident occurred amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, in which Californians are desperately seeking open spaces more than ever to practise social distancing and take a break from the state’s stay-at-home orders.

The sheriff’s office warned that anyone planning to visit the mountains should ‘not attempt to cross swift water’, even when it doesn’t appear to be dangerous, and to always make safety an optimum part of any hiking arrangements.

Angel Falls is one of the main attractions for hikers along the Willow Creek Trail, which is one of the most challenging trails, according to USDA Forest Service.

The trail is just shy of three miles long and has a moderate to steep climb, which is considered dangerous because of the slippery rocks along the path.
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