Bridge jumper rescued from river

Posted: Wednesday, September 13, 2000

A 43-year-old Sterling woman who jumped off the Sterling Highway bridge into the Kenai River in Soldotna Monday was recovering at Central Peninsula General Hospital Tuesday after being rescued by a fisher and the owner of a nearby lodge.

According to Soldotna Police Department reports, the incident occurred around 6:45 p.m., when witnesses said the woman, whose name was not released, walked to the edge of the bridge on the downstream side and jumped into the river's 40-degree water.

Soldotna patrolman Johnny Whitehead said the woman was initially spotted by three off-duty Coast Guardsmen from Juneau fishing near the Kenai River Lodge. Two of the men, David Savatgy and John P. Humpage, attempted to position themselves to reach the woman before Savatgy had to turn back because of the strong current and water temperature. Humpage, wearing chest waders, was able to reach the woman with the help of Kenai River Lodge owner Douglas Green.

"She was unconscious but breathing and was suffering from hypothermia when she was pulled to shore," Whitehead said. "She also appeared to be having a seizure." Whitehead said the woman was conscious and awake when he arrived at the hospital, but added he was unable to question her.

Green said he heard the commotion near the river's edge and expected to find a dog harassing his pets.

"I heard the yelling and expected to find a husky chewing on my rabbits," Green said. "But when I saw the body in the river I went zinging down there in my socks and passed everybody."

Green said Humpage couldn't go much farther in his waders to reach the woman, who was about to slip into the faster current.

"She was at a precarious point and he was about as far as he could go. He saw me and said 'help me grab her.' I grabbed her by the coat and he got her by the feet and we pulled her out. She was barely breathing so we turned her on her side and got her feet up."

Green is no stranger to river rescues in his seven years as the lodge's owner. In 1993 he rescued a boy that had fallen off a rock near the bridge. That effort earned him a commendation from Gov. Tony Knowles. Two years ago, he pulled a man from the Kenai that had jumped off at almost the exact spot as Monday's incident.

"It's a traumatic thing, I hope she's going to be OK," Green said. "I'm glad I was there to be of assistance."

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