Senior Airman Colton Lien acted heroically, saving a woman’s life after she nearly drowned in the Ouachita River. The river is 605 miles long, and runs south and east through Arkansas and Louisiana.
Lien, who joined the U.S. Air Force three years ago, works as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal technician. One of his favorite things to do is canoeing at the river, but during a recent day out on June 25th, there was a near tragedy.
A young woman with a group of people floating in 10 tubes, all tied together, became trapped at the ledge. Lien said he was canoeing nearby and immediately paddled over to her.
“I saw her hands in the air like she was freaking out, like she was scared,” Lien said. “I wasn’t worried about anything other than trying to get her out right now.”
As a canoe instructor who is trained in swift water rescue, he knew exactly what to do to save her. The woman had fallen into a suck hole, which is like a whirlpool in the river. Once a swimmer becomes stuck in a suck hole, it is extremely dangerous to be in and difficult to swim out.
Lien and his friends paddled their kayaks toward the fallen woman as they alerted others they passed to get help.
Once they reached her, they noticed that she was spinning. She would go underwater for five to 20-second intervals. Lien, his friends and another paddler who came to help tried for minutes to grab her with a rope, catch her with their paddles and reach for her from the kayaks, but nothing worked.
“I was able to get a hold of her using my canoe and pushed her out of the side,” Lien said.
Lien said the woman was unconscious for about two minutes, but he fears it could’ve been worse if he wasn’t there.
“We would’ve had to wait for river rescue to get there and that could’ve taken 15 to 20 more minutes. She’s quite fortunate that we could get there when we did,” Lien said.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” he said. “We did what needed to be done. It was definitely a team effort. We didn’t have time to panic because she didn’t have time for us to panic. We had to move and move fast.”
Lien recommends everyone wear a life jacket on the river, even if you’re a good swimmer. And unless you’re experienced in water rescue, call someone for help if someone is in distress.