A group of friends on their annual fishing trip on the Missouri River ended up catching more than expected when they saved two men who jumped into the river Saturday evening near Cooper’s Landing.
The friends didn’t get the names of either of the men they saved, but the one who was coherent told Caleb Wilson what happened. They had been walking the Katy Trail and got to the trestle bridge that crosses the Little Bonne Femme Creek where it empties into the river.
“One of them dared his buddy to jump, and his buddy said, ‘I’ll jump if you jump.’ So, you know what happens — they jumped in,” Wilson said. “That river pulled them right out into the current and just started pushing them downstream.”
Boone County Joint Communications online records show that the Boone County Fire Protection District was called to a water rescue on Smith Hatchery Road shortly before 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
The friends were on the river setting trotlines and jug rigs for catfish, said Wilson, of West Monroe, Louisiana. His friends, Will Jarboe, of Chillicothe, and Benjamin Miller, of Montgomery City, were out on their 20-foot fishing boats checking their lines across the river while Wilson watched from their camp at the landing.
Jarboe saw Miller and Justin Baker speed off in the other boat toward Boone County on the northeast side. Jarboe couldn’t hear them over the sound of the engine, but two women from Jefferson City, Gin Berry and Mindy Smith, were shouting from the shore and waving their arms for help, Wilson said.
Jarboe realized something was wrong as Miller waved for the other boat to follow.
“About halfway across the river, we start seeing heads in the water,” Jarboe said. “We quickly realized this had become a rescue.”
One of the men had been swimming and floating with the current, and was managing to keep himself above water, Wilson said. Jarboe threw out a flotation device and pulled him in.
The other man had been fighting the current. Baker and Miller went to him first because they saw him go under three times, Jarboe said. He went back under, and the men couldn’t see him and didn’t know what to do.
“All they could see was his fingertips come up one more time, and they happened to be in the right spot, so they reached in and grabbed his fingertips and pulled him up out of the water,” Jarboe said.
“They said it was like pulling a 250-pound dead octopus out of the water,” Wilson said.
The man was breathing, but he was not in good shape. When they pulled him onto the boat, he didn’t move — just laid prostrate on the deck, Jarboe said. Berry and Smith had been walking the Katy Trail when they saw the men jump in, and they called for an ambulance while the anglers made the rescue.
An ambulance was waiting when they got back to Cooper’s Landing. Wilson called it the quickest response he’d ever seen. The ambulance, seeing that the men were out of danger, called off the fire district’s response, Assistant Chief Gale Blomenkamp said. Other rescue boats arrived about 10 minutes later.
“It wouldn’t have been a rescue then, it would’ve been an aquatic recovery,” Wilson said.
Wilson and Jarboe both credited the two women who shouted from the shore. If it wasn’t for them, the fishers never would have known the two men were in trouble, they said.
“It’s a wonder things worked out the way they did,” Jarboe said. “Had we not been going over to Ben and Justin, we would’ve gone up river to check lines.”
When they got back to the landing, Jarboe made sure everyone was okay. But it was getting dark and they still had lines to check, so they peeled out and headed back upriver, he said. All-in-all, it was a successful outing for the men. Along with saving two lives, they caught a 78-pound blue catfish, Jarboe said.