Firefighters rescue kayaker from icy river

Jefferson County, MO (KSDK) Rescuers say a Desoto, MO man is lucky to be alive after capsizing his kayak in frigid Big River.

"I've had a really bad week and I went out on the river to find a little peace," said Joe Sullivan standing on dry land at the Mammoth river access to the Big River in Jefferson County. "That's my favorite place to be is out on the river."

Sunday, Sullivan almost didn't make it out of favorite place. He says he has kayaked the Big River countless time over the past ten years.

He almost didn't get on the river Sunday. He was sick, and says he canceled twice before deciding to join his brother for a kayaking trip.

"I had a sore throat and my brother, he got the cough drops for me," said Sullivan, holding up the sandwich bag size package of drops which may have saved his life.

Around 4 p.m. Sunday, Sullivan somehow flipped his canoe and fell into a river that first responders say is running faster and as much as four feet deeper than normal – thanks to fifteen inches of melting snow.

"My feet were really cold and I was shivering," recalled Sullivan, still shaking an nearly an hour after his rescue.

"We witnessed ice chunks still moving down the water," says Assistant Chief Thomas Fitzgerald with the Desoto Rural Fire Protection District. "Not necessarily the best place for everybody to be just yet," says Fitzgerald who says with Sunday's warmer than normal temperatures several kayakers took the Big River.

Luckily for Sullivan he stored his cell phone in the apparently water proof bag of cough drops his brother gave him -- and was able to call for help even though no one saw him go into the water.

First responders searched two miles of river before they found Sullivan.

Sullivan, clinging to a fallen tree branch in the river, says he did some soul searching – not sure he would survive.

"I'm feeling happy to be alive and I got a renewed outlook on life," said the fifty year old.

And Sullivan says the one person he thought of the most while holding on for his life for more than an hour was his high school sweet heart whom he hasn't seen in decades.

There was some concern Sullivan may have hypothermia but he declined a trip to the hospital and left on his own, grateful for those who pulled him from the river.


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