Kayaker clinging to tree rescued from Clinton River

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published October 10, 2018

File photo

ROCHESTER HILLS — A woman was rescued from the Clinton River last weekend after falling in the water while kayaking with her boyfriend.

Deputies from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office’s Rochester Hills substation were called to the 700 block of Riverbend Drive at around 4:20 p.m. Oct. 6 after construction workers heard a woman screaming for help and asked a homeowner to call 911.

Upon arrival, emergency responders searched the area and found a woman clinging to a tree branch on the east side of the Clinton River.

“When the deputies got out to the scene, they saw that the water was moving pretty fast because of all of the rain,” said Captain Mike Johnson, commander of the Rochester Hills Substation.

Emergency responders pulled her to safety with a plastic floating disc device with a rope attached, called a ResQ Disc.

The woman, 58, of Birmingham, had been in the water for about 45 minutes before she was rescued. She was treated by paramedics from the Rochester Hills Fire Department for hypothermia and minor cuts on her feet.

She and her boyfriend, a 57-year-old Birmingham resident, had reportedly been kayaking on the Clinton River, near Livernois and Avon, when they struck a submerged log and capsized.

The woman, who got caught in the current, had to cling to a tree branch to prevent from being swept further downstream. The man, who swam to safety on the west bank of the river, was uninjured.

Deputies said neither kayaker was wearing a personal floatation device, and their kayak, which was swept downstream, was never recovered.

Johnson said the department isn’t frequently called the river to make a rescue, but when they are, there is often a common thread.

“It’s often with people who are inexperienced kayakers,” he said.

Clinton River Watershed Council ecologist Eric Diesing said the river can rise to high levels after a storm, making kayaking and canoeing dangerous.

“We like to encourage people to get out and experience the river — it is a very, valuable resource that we have in our region — but in that same sense, with the watershed, as a whole, being so developed, during rain events the flows in the river itself can be very flashy,” he said.

When the river is flashy, Diesing said water flows go up and down very quickly.

“In the instance of a rainstorm, flows may go up a foot or more very quickly, and when your trying to paddle something like that, it can make it very dangerous. We would not recommend going out in high flows,” he explained.

The Clinton River stretches over 81 miles, and throughout that stretch, Diesing said the different sections vary in difficulty.

“If you go to the Clinton Township-Mount Clemens area, that can be a pretty leisurely paddle in normal flows, most of the time. If you go upstream a little bit more to Utica, Rochester, Rochester Hills and Auburn Hills, that is a very technical paddle. That area has about a 300 foot elevation drop and in that elevation drop the flows can pick up very quickly, the river is very windy and there is a lot of technical paddling through there. If you go all the way up toward the headwaters in Independence Township, Clarkston, and Waterford, there are a lot of lakes up there so watching out for boats is important, but outside of that it's pretty much still water paddling out there,” he explained.

With constantly changing water levels, as well as holes, drop-offs, fallen trees, sharp objects, rocks, dams, currents and undertows, tragedy can strike on the river at any moment.

“There have a been a series of instances in the Clinton River, over the past so many years, and we’ve actually had deaths on the Clinton River from paddling instances that happened in the past, so it should be noted that making sure that you take the proper precautions, in making sure that you are communicating the proper way, is going to be very important, should you decide to go out on a paddling trip,” Diesing said.

To enjoy the river as safely as possible, officials recommend never paddling alone, always wearing a life jacket, carrying a whistle, packing a throw bag with a rope and a cell phone, and checking the river’s water gauge readings online before heading out at www.crwc.org.

For more information about the Clinton River, visit http://www.crwc.org or call (248) 601-0606.