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Firefighters rescue man from Skykomish River during flood using drone

The man was stranded in a boat with no motor on Tuesday evening.

MONROE, Wash. — Fire crews along the Skykomish River near Monroe say rescue drivers aided by a drone are to credit with saving the life of a man who fell into the dark, frigid and fast-moving flood waters.   

Drone footage captured by Sky Valley Fire’s Assistant Fire Chief Ernie Walters shows the heat signature from rescue divers at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday evening. 

An atmospheric river has pounded the region on Dec. 6, flooding the Skykomish River and several other cities and rivers in western Washington. 

But from the Skykomish River comes a 911 call from a man on a boat with no motor. He's out of control and drifting down stream and needs to be rescued.  

“From when I first made contact with the drone, he was in total darkness. But with my camera, my drone, I was able to see him quite clearly,” Walters said.   

Rescue crews shut down a portion of Highway 522 over the river and tossed the man a line. In process of grabbing it, he's thrown into the water.  

“It was challenging trying to make access to the rivers edge, we’ve had heavy chest deep brush with water running underneath us so it just made it really challenging,” said Lt. Joe Virnig, a resuce swimmer for Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue.   

Virnig was standing along the shoreline and dove after the man overboard once he lost control of the rescue line.   

“What did help was he was screaming out for help so I was locate his voice and put myself in a position to make a good rescue,” Virnig said.   

From the drone, rescue swimmers are seen reaching the man. “If I can just get my hands on this victim and let him know, try to do some sort of reassurance, that ‘I’m with you we’re going to walk through this together and get you out of here,” Virnig said.  

Tonight, that boater is safe and warm. Though the water levels still high and dangerous, the rescue is a win for first responders. 

“Luck has some factor into it," Walters said. "But, it also factors in with all these professionals that have trained hours and hours."

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