2 rescues in one week have St. Charles looking for ways to warn boaters about bad weather
After rescuing two families in less than a week from the Fox River -- including Sunday when crews plucked three people from a boat less than 30 seconds before it went over the dam -- St. Charles officials are looking for ways to warn boaters when bad weather is approaching.
Fire Chief Joe Schelstreet said city and park district officials discussed the matter Monday. The park district offers a public boat launch off Boy Scout Island, and rents paddleboats from Pottawatomie Park.
"We love that people use the river. It's beautiful ... But we want them to use it safely," Schelstreet said.
Those safety concerns came to the forefront June 24 when a man and his two children were on a paddleboat when a storm hit. They took refuge under a railroad bridge and were rescued by firefighters.
It happened again Sunday afternoon, when the motor on a 16-foot boat failed. The boaters dropped anchor, but it wasn't enough to hold the boat against the current, Schelstreet said.
As the boat drifted toward the dam, bystanders on the riverbanks called 911 at 1:24 p.m.
The boat drifted slowly at first, until a thunderstorm with high winds rolled in and pushed it faster toward the dam.
"The compounding factor was the storm," Schelstreet said.
Two firefighters in a motorized inflated boat raced to the boat and took two adults and a teen into the rescue craft -- just 30 seconds before the abandoned boat went over the dam.
The rescue boat docked at a canoe launch just north of the St. Charles police station. The three, who were wearing personal flotation devices, were taken to nearby Station 1, rain-soaked and distressed, but not injured, Schelstreet said.
Mark Rinaldi of St. Charles was dining with his brother and father at Salerno's on the Fox Restaurant on the west side of the river when they heard sirens. He went to the window, recorded the near miss and posted the video on Facebook. He also posted a video taken by his wife, who was at the Hotel Baker, adjacent the dam.
Rescuers already had been called.
The boaters, he said, "were flailing their arms trying to get help."
"See, the boat's about to go over the dam," a man can be heard saying on the video. "Holy cow ... the boat's done."
The video shows the wind-whipped choppy waters.
The wind was 31 mph, with gusts up to 47 mph around that time, according to a federal weather station at the DuPage County Airport in nearby West Chicago.
Firefighters also helped other boaters get out of the river, using a private launch near the paddle wheel river cruise boats in Pottawatomie Park.
The boat that toppled over the dam lodged near a bridge and a tow truck with a crane lifted it out Monday morning.
State conservation police are investigating.
Schelstreet urged boaters to improve their "situational awareness" and pay attention to weather forecasts, including enabling federal emergency weather warnings on their smartphones. Details are available at weather.gov.
The National Weather Service issued a forecast at 4:17 a.m. Sunday that called for storms, with hail and high winds, likely to strike between 1 and 4 p.m. north of I-80.
City and park officials are discussing possibilities such as installing a Thor Guard lightning prediction system, similar to what the park district has at sports fields. The system blasts an alarm when it calculates dangerous weather is near.
Another possibility is using a city public-announcement system already in place, but there are concerns about audio clarity of a spoken announcement, Schelstreet said.
The two groups also discussed developing a boating and river safety awareness campaign, he said.
"The key here is we need to increase awareness of the weather," Schelstreet said.