The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

October 4, 2013

Three teens save stranded man on Mississippi

An unexpected catch

By Amy Kent
Herald Staff Writer

CAMANCHE — Aug. 24 seemed like any other day for Warren Burnett, but what would unfold on that day is something he could have never anticipated.

As he headed north on the main channel of the Mississippi River during a Sunday morning fishing trip, everything seemed normal, but things quickly took a turn for the worse.

"I was going out fishing and turned up the channel out in the middle of the pool," Burnett said. "My hat blew off and I made a quick turn to go get it, and I went out of the boat."

The sharp U-turn Burnett performed sent him sailing backwards off the side of the boat, which veered in the opposite direction toward a moss bed along the Illinois river bank.

Burnett frantically paddled to a nearby channel marker, spending nearly 45 minutes in cold river water, before pulling himself onto the jagged rocks where he waited for at least an hour until help arrived.

That help came in the form of three teenagers, who, just like Burnett, were out on a morning fishing trip.

Mitch McElroy, 18, Hunter Alm, 17, and Trenton Alm, 14, were spending that chilly Sunday morning enjoying their favorite past-time fishing and scoping out new areas for the upcoming duck hunting season.

While traveling up river to their normal fishing spot, the three saw an odd image sitting on the rocks near the channel marker. Unsure at first what it was, the boys decided to investigate, not knowing that they would soon save another man's life.

"It just looked weird," Hunter said. "We're always up there and usually it's something you never see, someone sitting on a rock pile at 6:30 in the morning."

As he pulled the boat in closer he could see Burnett waving his arms and realized something wasn't right.

"He was really fatigued and had just swam all that distance to get to the rock pile. We just knew he was in trouble," McElroy said.

The boys quickly pulled their boat onto the rocks and, as Trenton held it securely in place, McElroy and Hunter pulled the man into the boat to take him to safety.

After tying Burnett's boat to theirs, the three teenagers hauled the catch they never expected safely back to shore.

"He was defiantly in shock and he had a few cuts on his hands but he seemed to be OK," McElroy said. "We helped him load his boat up and offered to drive him home but he said he would be fine."

Although Burnett did not seek medical advice on his condition, he did feel as though early stages of hypothermia had set in because of his inability to move his legs and felt if he would have been out there much longer he may not have survived.

"They were such good boys," Burnett said. "I kind of think they saved my life. I probably couldn't have lasted on that island for much longer."

Another major reason Burnett survived the unlikely accident: by wearing his lifejacket.

"The lifejacket was the main thing," Burnett said. "It happened so fast that if I was sitting on it I wouldn't have gotten it in time and probably wouldn't have made it."

His message to other boaters: "Warren says wear you're lifejacket."