KEENE, N.H. - A Keene State College student from Massachusetts is lucky to be alive after floating over a dam in an inflatable kiddie pool and getting trapped in the churning current.
Keene firefighters grabbed the exhausted student as he sank in the frigid Ashuelot River Friday evening. They also had to rescue a woman who jumped in to try to save him.
"He went over the dam, got caught in the turbulent water, and was clinging to the pool," said Deputy Fire Chief Mark Boynton. "When you get in [the swirling current], you can't get out."
Boynton said Alex Perry, 19, and another person were in the kiddie pool, intending to float over the dam at Ashuelot River Park, when the companion bailed out. Perry, of Westborough, Mass., went over, upended, and got trapped in the churning waters.
As firefighters inflated their special rescue boat, a woman who was watching jumped into the 40-degree water and began swimming toward the struggling teen, Boynton said.
"She said she couldn't watch him drown," he said.
The well-intentioned gesture complicated the rescue, because firefighters had to rescue the woman on their way to the teen. Her extra weight in the rescue boat made it difficult to maneuver.
As firefighters fought to get to him, Perry slipped underwater.
"A witness saw him churn in the boil three times before he resurfaced," said Boynton. Perry popped up about 15 feet in front of the boat, but couldn't stay afloat.
"He went under four more times before getting to the boat," Boynton said. "They reached into the water and managed to grab his hand."
The woman left, but told bystanders she was fine and only glad the teen had been rescued.
Boynton said the area is dangerous, and rescuers often train there.
He said the dam doesn't look like much, with a drop of 3 or 4 feet at this time of year, when the river is high.
"That's what leads you to being deceived," he said. "With all that water going over . . . it's just moving in circular motion that you can't get out of."
The current pulls victims toward the dam and holds them there, he said.
On April 6, kayaker Mark Boucher, 33, of Ashburnham, Mass., was pulled under after his boat capsized close to the dam. He still is in critical condition at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.