Heroic efforts save the life of an Alturas man
By Sam Williams
A 23-year-old man from Alturas who nearly drown in Eagle Lake on Sunday is alive today thanks to his friends, passersby, Lassen County fire and medical personnel.
California Department of Forestry Fire Captain Rob Cobb said personnel from the Stones-Bengard Fire Department, Sierra Emergency Medical Services Association and California Department of Forestry responded to the boat ramp at the Eagle Lake Marina about 3:47 p.m. to assist a possible drowning victim.
Cobb declined to identify the victim, citing patient confidentiality regulations.
Nicole Stainz said she and three friends, one of them the victim, went to Eagle Lake Saturday. Stainz declined to identify the victim as well.
The four friends, two men and two women, rented a boat at the marina and spent the day sailing around the lake.
They parked the boat on a sandbar and enjoyed themselves on the shore. Gradually the wind came up. With the wind came the waves, and before the four friends knew it, their boat had floated off into the lake.
Stainz said the four friends swam after the boat, but everyone but the victim finally gave up trying to chase it and decided to swim back to shore. The victim continued to swim after the boat.
“He got about five feet from the boat, but it just kept going out,” Stainz said. “He never could quite catch up to it.” She said the victim and the boat just kept moving at the same speed.
Eventually, the victim gave up trying to catch the boat and started to swim back to shore. He never made it. As he was swimming back toward them, the people on the shore noticed their friend was in trouble.
Stainz said one of the friends, Chris Battram, of Alturas, swam out to help the victim. Then the two women on the shore heard the victim scream. They also swam out to help.
When Battram reached the victim, he panicked and stared trying to pull his rescuer under he water. Battram cried out for help and Stainz also joined the struggle. Then the victim kept shoving both of them both down under the water.
“Everything happened so fast,” Stainz said. “It seemed like it happened in a split second.”
She said they saw two boats passing near them, and they screamed for help as loud as they could.
Reno resident Rebecca Hawkins was one of four women on the first boat to arrive on the scene.
“We came upon a boat drifting alone and another boat circling,” Hawkins said. “We saw four people in the water screaming for help.”
Hawkins said Shannon Wiecking, a lieutenant with the Reno Police Department, and Lisa McCuiston both dove into the water. She said she called 911.
When the victim was pulled from the water, Hawkins said, “I thought he was dead.”
Wiecking said as a 12-year law enforcement veteran she was used to working in stressful situations, but she had no training or experience in water rescues.
“I thought the people in the water were just waving at us until I heard a female screaming,” Wiecking said.
When she dove in the water she said she didn’t see the victim at first.
“His head was not above the water,” Wiecking said. “I didn’t see anything as I went down, but as I came up I saw him about 6 feet under the water and going down. I didn’t think he was alive. He was blue and pale grey.”
In a lucky stroke of fate, one of the women on the boat knocked the anchor into the water.
The rescuers used the anchor line to help raise the victim onto the boat.
Stainz said Battram was determined not to lose the victim. She said he’d lost another friend to an accident earlier this year and wasn’t going to lose another one.
“He could have drown, too,” Wiecking said of Battram. “He just wasn’t giving up on him.”
And Wiecking herself said she became concerned for her own safety as she struggled to help the victim.
“I thought I was going to either drown or let him go,” she said.
Once they got the victim onto the boat, they began giving him CPR.
Another woman on the boat, Nicole Ott, had just earned a CPR certification. She and Battram began CPR — Ott doing the breathing and Battram doing the chest compressions as the boat headed back to the marina.
The victim was breathing by the time the boat reached the dock at the marina and his care was transferred to the EMT personnel.
Once he was stabilized, the victim was Lifeflighted to Renown Medical Center in Reno.
People on the second boat secured the drifting boat and brought it back to the marina.
Stainz said the victim was released from the hospital Wednesday afternoon.
“They’re really lucky we came along,” Wiecking said. “We were lucky to get to him in time.”
She said everyone involved contributed to the rescue.
“Take one of us out of the picture, and this wouldn’t have happened,” Wiecking said.
“We rented a boat and were having a really nice day until this happened,” Stainz said.
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