San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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Kyle firefighter Kevin Cox helps stranded swimmer Tina Sackett swim to safety after being swept over Five Mile Dam Friday afternoon. Below, emergency personnel pull Cox and Sackett across the river and toward the Blanco River bank. PHOTO by LINCOLN RAMIREZ (forevermemoriesphotographykyle.com)

 

by WES FERGUSON

Kyle firefighters rescued a shivering yet unharmed swimmer Friday afternoon after she was nearly swept away in the flooded Blanco River.

Tina Sackett of Austin was taking a dip at Five Mile Dam south of Kyle when she lost control in water swollen by more than 2.3 inches of rain the night before.

“I started at the boat ramp, and the idea was to get out once I got close to the dam” about a quarter-mile downstream, she said. “But there was no getting out. It just swept me over.”

The current was carrying her toward a series of rapids formed by large boulders just below the dam when Sackett grabbed hold of grass in a shallow place and clawed her way to a small, bushy tree.

Clinging to tree branches, Sackett waited until a group of Texas State University students found her. “We were walking by, and she started calling us for help,” said Halston Smith, who had gone to the dam to photograph the floodwaters.

Fellow Texas State student Elliot Scales said he had been planning to swim too, until he saw Sackett below the dam.

“I guess we got lucky,” he said. “We tried to swim out to her, but the current was too strong so we had to call 9-1-1.”

Emergency responders from the fire department, Hays County Sheriff’s Office and San Marcos/Hays County Emergency Medical Services reached the dam within minutes. With a succession of Kyle firefighters posted along points downstream, swift-water rescuer Kevin Cox put on a lifejacket and yellow helmet, jumped into the rapid water and paddled furiously to the middle of the river.

He reached Sackett in about 15 seconds, made sure she was OK and helped her into a life vest. As logs and downed trees spilled over the dam, firefighters on the banks tossed a long yellow rope three times before Cox was able to grab hold of it and clip himself to it. He used a bungee and clips to fasten Sackett’s vest to his.

Then they waded back into the deeper water. On shore, eight men tugged the rope as it swung them back to safety, and the crew helped Sackett into a blanket and flip-flops. Uninjured during her spill over the dam, Sackett said she was embarrassed by the episode but wanted to thank her rescuers.

“I’m really glad they did what they did,” said Sackett, who works in Kyle. “If I’d hit my head, if I’d been knocked unconscious, I’d be dead. I’m really lucky.”

Battalion Chief Mike Vasil said the fire department has responded to three other rescues this year, though the others were at flooded low-water crossings.

After the rescue, a Hays County sheriff’s deputy closed the park amid the unsafe conditions.

“Those rapids are pretty bad,” Vasil said. “(Cox) was swimming for his life.”

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