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Water rescue pulls man from river

Jessica Cuffman • Jul 3, 2013 at 11:30 AM

What they didn’t expect was that they wouldn’t be able to handle it.

“We hit a rough patch, we flipped. We knew we were going to flip, but we anticipated we were going to be able to flip the canoe around and be OK,” said Matt Miller, 22, of Fremont.

He and his fellow paddlers, Kyle Whitright, 24, and Eric Hottinger, 24, both of Fremont, were wearing life jackets during their trek down the river.

They launched from the Fremont dam, but only got about 3/4 of a mile down river before their boat capsized.

At first, all three used the canoe as a shield from the rocks.

Then Miller hit a large rock, bounced off it and went under the water.

When he emerged from the water, he grabbed onto the first thing he could latch onto, a downed tree.

Then he spotted a couple standing on the river bank and yelled for them to call 911.

“I knew my two friends were going down the river, but I didn’t know if they were all right,” he said.

Sandusky County dispatchers received the 911 call at 7:21 p.m., and rescuers from the sheriff’s office, Ballville Township

Fire Department, Fremont police and county EMS squad were on their way.

Then Miller spotted Whitright running up the bank.

A short time later, Hottinger had boarded one of the boats that tried to make it to where he was holding on.

In the end, a rescue fan boat from Ballville Township was the ticket to reaching the stranded paddler.

“Initially, I was panicking because I didn’t know where Eric and Kyle were,” Miller said. “As soon as I heard the fan boat coming up the river, I knew I would be safe.”

Miller took a ride to the hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia after spending about an hour in the water.

He was released that night.

“Everybody who was there, they were incredibly helpful. And the water rescue team, I’m very grateful for them,” Miller said.

It wasn’t the first time Miller had been dumped in the 10 years he’s been paddling.

But it was the first time he’d experienced such a dramatic rescue, he said.

Whitright’s canoe even made it to shore.

He’d been swept down river with the boat until it got shallow enough to where he could pull himself out and drag the vessel to shore.

“It was his canoe and he wasn’t going to abandon ship,” Miller said.

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