The Southwest Wisconsin Technical Rescue Team and Platteville firefighters rescued a 21-year-old Platteville man from the Little Platte River west of Platteville after a kayaking accident Sunday night.
Jesse Wellman was taken by Platteville EMS to Southwest Health Center after the rescue on Stumptown Road.
Platteville Fire Chief Dave Izzard said Wellman launched his kayak from the Stumptown Road bridge over the Little Platte River. Two men accompanied him but did not go into the water, Izzard said.
About a quarter-mile downstream from the bridge, Wellman ended up in the river, Izzard said.
“He was out of the kayak into the water, and his closest swim to shore was the cliff side,” said Izzard. “That water was moving very, very fast.”
Izzard said Wellman got out of the water and underneath a ledge. Wellman’s companions, who were on the way to the next bridge downstream, heard him yell for help.
The Platteville Fire Department and Platteville EMS were called just before 7 p.m. UW–Platteville police also assisted at the scene.
Shortly after the Fire Department and EMS were called, the Technical Rescue Team, made up of firefighters and EMTs from Grant, Crawford and Lafayette counties, was dispatched for what initially appeared to be a water rescue.
“You generally don’t find people kayaking in the middle of winter,” said Lancaster firefighter Mike Shinee, who is on the Technical Rescue Team and responded to the call. “What we were originally dispatched for, a water rescue, turned out to be a cliff rescue, which is tremendously different.”
“How often does it happen? Once every couple of years,” said Izzard.
Izzard said the rescue options were either to go across the water, which was triple its usual depth of 2 feet, or rappel down more than 200 feet from the cliff to Wellman.
“It was easier to take him up over the cliff than it was to take him over the water,” said Shinee.
One crew went down the cliff to clear brush from the rescue scene, another crew went downstream in case Wellman or a rescuer ended up in the water, and a third crew took a stretcher and turnout gear to Wellman.
Rescuers walked through more than a foot of slushy snow at the scene.
“It was snowy and cold and rainy,” said Shinee. “Where the patient was located, it was difficult getting set up to get access to the victim.”
Complicating matters further was the fact that rescuers had to loop five miles back toward Platteville on Southwest Road, U.S. 151 and Maple Glen Lane to get from the north bank of the river, where they initially went, to the south side of the river, where Wellman was.
“He’s pretty lucky,” said Shinee.
The Little Platte River, the Grant River near Burton and other Grant County rivers were swollen from snow melt and rain Saturday and Sunday.