It was a team effort for emergency responders who airlifted a Kalispell family of five to safety Monday night after their raft capsized and left them stranded on a boulder in the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
Jeri Amundson was with her daughter’s family for an evening rafting trip when they miscalculated a turn just above The Notch, a whitewater rapid about a mile east of West Glacier.
They ran aground in the middle of the fast-moving river at around 7:30 p.m., she said.
“We just got the little one up on the rock, and the rest of us climbed up there,” Amundson said. “With a three-year-old with us, we didn’t feel like we should leave the rock.”
River rescues aren’t uncommon this time of year, but Nick Fister, the coordinator for Flathead County Search and Rescue, said it’s the biggest one they’ve tackled so far this year.
Along with the county search and rescue team, a helicopter crew from Two Bear Air Rescue, North Valley Rescue Association, the Sheriff’s Office Swiftwater Team, Glacier National Park staffers and Glacier Raft Co. responded.
“It was fast-moving river water [that] you can expect this time of year on the Middle Fork,” he said.
First on the scene was Glacier Raft Co., which Amundson said happened to be guiding a rafting trip behind them. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to get the family ashore, raft company personnel called emergency responders.
Two Bear Air pilot James Heckman, who just this month completed his pilot’s training with the private response team, handled the extrication, according to fellow Two Bear Air pilot Jim Bob Pierce. The helicopter arrived at about 10:30 p.m.
“It was a little more difficult than normal because of course it was dark, and they were so tight on the rock we didn’t want to blow them off, so we had to do a pretty high hoist,” Pierce said.
It took less than an hour for the collection of emergency response crews to transport the family members to safety, and Fister said there were no injuries.
“That’s what North Valley Rescue Association, search and rescue and Two Bear Air all train for, is an incident like what happened last night,” he said Tuesday. “It was just about textbook, from what I saw.”
Fister complimented the quick response of the North Valley Rescue Association.
“Their role is imperative in working side-by-side with Two Bear Air and just making sure everybody’s safe,” he said.
Amundson said she was grateful for the smooth rescue and thanked the responders and raft guides who helped.
“Everybody stayed calm and it worked out really well,” she said. “It was an adventure.”
Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.