Water Rescue on the Saluda River: Three men saved through the combined efforts of multiple agencies

November 29, 2023

In a feat of courage and collaboration, three men were rescued from the swift currents and rapids of the Saluda River. This successful rescue mission stands as a testament to the exceptional skill and unwavering commitment of local rescue teams.

The incident unfolded on a chilly Monday afternoon when a seemingly ordinary fishing trip turned perilous. Three fishermen found themselves in grave danger as their boat lost power amidst the rapids of the Saluda River. With the boat sinking in the frigid, swift waters, the men, unable to free themselves from the rocks and swift water, made a desperate call to 911, triggering a remarkable chain of events in a race against time.

Responding to the urgent call, 911 dispatchers from Newberry and Saluda Counties immediately coordinated the response to the Search and Rescue operation. First responders swiftly converged at the Highway 39 boat landing in Chappells, SC, where a command post was established. Chief Mark Lybrand of Saluda County Fire Service and Chief Terry Russell of Newberry County / Chappells Fire and Rescue spearheaded the operation, orchestrating the efforts of multiple agencies.

As the rescue teams assembled, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SC DNR) and Sheriff’s Deputies initiated a systematic search along the shoreline, accessing the river at various points by way of dirt roads, wooded trails, and farmland. Concurrently, boat teams from Newberry and Saluda Counties embarked on a search mission upstream and downstream. Battling against the swift, shallow waters littered with obstacles, the teams pushed on.

In a pivotal moment, advanced technology enabled Saluda County 911 Dispatch to pinpoint the fishermen’s location through their cell phone signal. Ground teams from DNR and the Sheriff’s office followed the coordinates via GPS and managed to locate the stranded fishermen. The men were found in the middle of the river sitting on the side of their capsized boat, which was precariously perched on a large rock amidst the raging rapids.

The rescue strategy then shifted gears. The Newberry County Water Rescue and Dive team, who had been assigned the downstream search, arrived and began coordinating the rescue efforts with DNR, the Sheriff’s Office, and a local landowner familiar with the river. The swiftwater rescuers then skillfully navigated their boat downstream, through the narrow, turbulent passages among the rapids. Once through, they quickly turned their boat around and began their approach toward the stranded men, battling against the powerful current.

With the boat’s motor at full throttle, the rescuers inched their way through the rapidly moving water towards the fishermen. In a tense and dramatic moment, the rescue team reached the stranded men, swiftly transferring them to the safety of their vessel, made a quick pivot in the river and headed back down stream to calmer waters. The rescue operation concluded with the men being transferred to a larger rescue boat and eventually to the safety of the ground team on shore who, in turn, took the men to Saluda County EMS to provide medical evaluation.

This extraordinary rescue serves as a shining example of the power of teamwork and interagency coordination to overcome adversity.

Prosperity Rescue, Newberry County Water Rescue and Dive Team, Chappell’s Fire and Rescue, Saluda County Fire Service, Saluda EMS, SC-DNR, Saluda 911 Dispatch, and Newberry County Dispatch all played vital roles in this complex operation.