Two student researchers pulled from icy Housatonic River after canoe capsizes

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SHEFFIELD — Firefighters pulled two men from an icy, fast-moving Housatonic River on Sunday after their canoe capsized when it collided with a stump.

Sheffield firefighters found the pair, Adam Haynes and Kevin Jackson, both 25, clinging to logs after Haynes managed to call 911 from his cellphone, which worked despite having been submerged.

Both men, who said they could not reach the shore near a farm field at the end of Bridgeview Lane, were treated at the scene and transported by ambulance to Fairview Hospital for symptoms of first-stage hypothermia, said Sheffield Fire Chief David Ullrich.

Haynes told The Eagle the two University of Connecticut graduate students were discharged Sunday night and have returned home, where they are recovering.

"The phone was critical," Ullrich said, adding that finding the logs to grab and keep them out of the ripping current was also "lucky." He estimated that the pair were in the water for about 10 minutes. The call came in at 3:15 p.m.

The department's rescue boat was dispatched, and three firefighters wearing ice rescue suits and tethered with ropes headed into the water and pulled the men out, Ullrich said.

In a phone interview, Haynes said that he and Jackson had launched the canoe in Housatonic, and were collecting more data about water flow and nutrients. Haynes is studying biogeochemistry of natural resources, while Jackson has a similar interest but with a focus on GIS mapping. Both use the Housatonic River and the Farmington River in Connecticut as "reference rivers" for their work.

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Haynes said the canoe capsized when the current pushed it into a stump.

"The current was just faster than we imagined it would be, and the stump got under the canoe and pushed it up and the current kept pushing it up and pushed us over," he said. The two were separated by about 20 feet, immersed in "floating slush."

"I couldn't really swim through it and it wasn't really solid ice so I was crawling, sinking and swimming all at the same time," he said.

Hypothermia began to set in and Haynes doubted he had the strength to cross the current with a jump to shore.

"I was borderline," he said. "My arms and legs were about not to work. I was shivering through to the point where you stop shivering. My hands were two shades of blue."

Though all their equipment — and Jackson's phone — was lost, Haynes' phone still worked. It had been in his pocket.

Ullrich said that it was Haynes' call and the location coordinates that made for a quick response, and the entire operation was over in about 2 1/2 hours. Twelve firefighters, two Sheffield police officers and one State Police trooper responded.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and413-329-6871.


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