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Carter County riverboat rescue missions: 21 and counting

The Carter County Rescue Squad’s river rescue team is only in its second year of operation after acquiring a riverboat and has already completed 21 rescue missions.

The current count does not include a recent rescue the team did on Watauga River Monday when three men who were fishing could not make it back to the bank because of a generation cycle that started earlier than they expected based on an undetermined cellphone application failure.

Fortunately for the fisherman, John Burleson, a 25-year veteran with the squad where he now serves as its rescue coordinator, was on the scene. Burleson is one of the few squad officials that so far that have been trained with the riverboat. The men were rescued in a matter of minutes.

The riverboat’s uniqueness, according to Burleson, stems from its ability to travel over very shallow water. Burleson went on to say that this is made possible because instead of the propellers that are used on most boats, the squad’s riverboat used jet propulsion. This allows the boats to run over much water as low as three inches.

This does not mean there are not dangers that can be faced by the boat’s crew. Missions have to follow certain routes or end up running into what Burleson called “rock gardens,” which appear to be large overhanging or up shooting rocks with jagged edges that go on in a stepped pattern. When these are covered with water they can be difficult to detect and they have the ability to cause a lot of damage.

Burleson closed out the interview advising that the public practice safety above all else when on any water. “If you got waders on wear a life jacket because when they fill up with water, they become anchors,” he said. “Pay attention to your surroundings. Know the generation schedule and be aware when the water comes up on you.”