River rescue saves 2 teens

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Two Brewton teens – one with burns to his face and eye – were rescued off the Conecuh River early Saturday morning.

Chief Deputy Mike Lambert with the Escambia County Sheriff said the boys, both 17, decided to take advantage of the spring-like weather for a camping trip, launching just after the school bell rang on Friday.

“Later, we got a 911call from a cell phone saying that the boys had launched at River View in a boat to go camping,” Lambert said. “The caller said one boy was injured and needed help, and then we lost signal.”

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That’s when a full rescue mission began, Lambert said. Emergency personnel began working with the cell phone company to determine the location of the phone’s last signal.

“The thing was, we didn’t know if they were going up the river when they left or down,” Lambert said of the teens’ direction of travel. “Several hours later, we launched our boat going up stream and the rescue squad went down river.”

Lambert said deputies located the teens after spotting the edge of a tent of a sandbar at approximately 4 a.m. Saturday.

“Apparently what had happened was one of them dropped a lighter in the fighter and it caused an explosion,” Lambert said. “One boy received burns to his face and eye. We were able to determine the location where they were and get them loaded up into a vehicle on (U.S. Hwy. 29) in an area behind Herrington’s Logging.”

Lambert said both teens were transported to the hospital for medical treatment. The injured teen is expected to make a full recovery.

Lambert said he believes the night’s recovery is the first of the season as warmer weather sparks more river adventures.

“These kids were smart,” he said. “They did a good job of staying put once they realized they were in trouble. A lot of people will wander to try to find their way out, and that just causes us to have to look for them more.

“If you’re going to be out on the river, know where you’re going,” Lambert advised would be boaters and campers. “If they’d told someone they were going up river, it would have cut the response time greatly.”

Lambert credited the use of their cell phone for the boys’ recovery.

“But, people need to remember, there is limited cell service on the water – extremely limited,” he said. “People need to understand that if you can dial 911, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to go through or that you get a response. You have to have a signal. There’s no flare hooked to the end of that cell phone.”

“It’s getting more and more of a routine for us to have to go and find people that are lost or stranded on the river,” he said. “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”