An Anne Arundel County, Maryland man survived falling into the ice-clogged Patapsco River a quarter of a mile offshore, thanks to a determined team of Natural Resources Police and firefighters.
46-year-old Randall Heath was duck hunting from his kayak Thursday when he fell out of his kayak. Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) say his life jacket did not inflate, and he couldn’t get back into the vessel.
An NRP officer launched a patrol boat from Stoney Creek as the Anne Arundel County Fire Department launched a dinghy with firefighters in survival suits to row to the scene. The officer had to fight through ice floes up to six inches thick to reach the area, and when he finally did, he couldn’t even find Heath.
“I didn’t see anything — it was a field of ice,” Officer Antonio Colvin said.
After he searched unsuccessfully for ten minutes, the fire department on shore was able to guide Officer Colvin to the victim. Heath was barely afloat and Colvin tied a rope to Heath’s belt loops to keep him from sinking. Colvin was then able to pull him on board the patrol boat.
“It was amazingly difficult to get him in,” Colvin said. “Luckily, the ice quickly reformed around my hull and gave me a nice, level, steady playing field to get him in.”
By this time, Colvin was able to pick up the firefighters from their dinghy, and they immediately gave Heath medical attention. The patrol boat made its way back through ice chunks to reach Atlantic Marina Resorts in Pasadena, where EMTs were waiting for Heath.
Heath was rushed to the University of Maryland Baltimore-Washington Medical Center, where he was treated for hypothermia and a broken hand.
When a person falls overboard in extreme conditions like these, NRP warns that it doesn’t take long for things become life-threatening.
“Natural Resources Police urges boaters to be extremely careful in winter conditions, where one small mistake can be fatal. Water temperatures are in the low 30s. Cold water takes your breath away and robs muscles of their strength in a matter of minutes. If the water is ice-choked, first-responders may have difficulty finding you and then reaching you in time. If you fall in, the cards may be stacked against you,” cautions NRP spokesperson Candy Thomson.