2 women rescued from Fox River in North Aurora

Two 19-year-old women rescued from the flood-swollen Fox River in North Aurora owe their lives to young bystanders who took their screams for help seriously, and to a downed tree in the river.

They were also fortunate that a trained rescue crew was nearby and in the water within three minutes.

Several teens called for help at 7:59 p.m. Wednesday from Lippold Park. They had heard screaming, which they initially dismissed as other kids goofing off, Lambert said. But when it continued, they decided to investigate, saw the women and called 911.

"This is the type of rescue movies are made of," said Lt. Aaron Christensen, one of the rescuers.

The women, neither of whom was wearing a lifejacket, were traveling on an inflated raft. The raft got caught on the tree and dumped them. Unable to stand in the water, the women clung to the tree. The raft became submerged, then disappeared beneath them, according to another rescuer, firefighter Tim Garrett.

Garrett, Christensen and firefighter/paramedic Brandon Kotecki launched a motorized inflated boat from a spot near the North Aurora village hall, which is just above a lowhead dam, about a quarter-mile south of the park.

Guided by firefighters and police officers calling from shore, and aided in the growing dusk by police-wielded lights, they found the women at least 20 feet from shore, hanging on the downriver side of the tree.

"They were tired," said Chief Ryan Lambert of the North Aurora Fire Protection District, and were losing their grip, even as bystanders yelled at them to hang on.

The three rescuers hustled to position the boat, told the women what was going to happen, then hauled them in over the bow as they heard the tree limb starting to crack.

They brought the women to shore, where they walked to a waiting ambulance. Police later drove the women back to their car.

Fire officials credit the quick call from the teens and the training the department does at least annually for water rescues on the river and in detention and retention ponds.

It's the first time Garrett and Christensen have done an in-the-river rescue in their respective 12- and 13-year careers with the district. On other calls, endangered boaters have made it to shore before rescuers arrived, Christensen said.

The boat is kept in Station 1, a half-block from the river. The firefighters check it every week to make sure it is inflated and properly equipped and that the motor starts right up.

"The crew as a whole did a phenomenal job as far as organization and communication," Christensen said.

It was Kotecki's first stint as shift commander, and he was in charge of the rescue. Christensen and Garrett were off-duty but at the station conducting some training.

Fox Valley Park District police said the women entered the river at a fishing access station and were trying to paddle north to Glenwood Park Forest Preserve.

Christensen said the women told them they had just recently bought the raft. And they didn't know North Aurora had a dam.

Lambert said given the swift current, the women likely would have ended up going over the dam, even if still in the raft, and drowning. The North Aurora dam is a lowhead dam, which are known for trapping people in the hydraulic "boil" at the bottom.

"That water was really moving pretty fast," he said.

Because of flooding and high water levels, the Fox River has been closed to recreational boating since July 14 from the Chain O' Lakes to the Montgomery dam.

On July 14, two kayakers went over the dam in St. Charles; one made it to the bank, but firefighters had to go in the water to rescue the other one.

On July 15, three kayakers were rescued from the river in Oswego.

As of Thursday afternoon, the river was at 13.4 feet, about a half-foot above flood stage, down from 14.22 on Sunday.

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  Lt. Aaron Christensen, left, and firefighter Tim Garrett of the North Aurora Fire Protection District helped rescue two women from the swollen Fox River. Susan Sarkauskas/
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