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Warning to boaters follows kayakers' rescue

New Hampshire Union Leader
Union Leader Correspondent

May 18. 2017 9:03PM
One of the stranded kayakers holds onto the buoy line while awaiting rescuers Wednesday evening in Hooksett. (JEFFREY HASTINGS)

HOOKSETT — The rescue of five teen kayakers stranded on a line of buoys in the Merrimack River Wednesday night illustrates just how treacherous conditions are now, fire officials said.

Manchester Fire District Chief Brendan Burns was the incident commander for the Manchester crew that launched the boats in the fading twilight and successfully navigated the swirling currents to reach the boys.

His firefighters are “all very proficient, very experienced and they said it was some of the toughest conditions they’d ever operated in,” Burns said of the rescue crew. “It’s deceiving. That’s why those kids got in trouble. They were very inexperienced and they just weren’t prepared for those conditions.”

Though chilled from the cold water, the teens — in rented kayaks — did not need medical attention. Names of those rescued were not immediately available.

Burkush estimated the river was probably about three feet above normal after two weeks of steady rain and the continued melt off of the winter snowpack.

He said that all the kayakers were wearing life vests, though one did not put the vest on until after firefighters got to the riverside.

Manchester Fire Assistant Chief Richard McGahey said although the river’s surface may look flat, the current is running swiftly and water temperatures haven’t broken 50 degrees yet.

“This time of the year is really bad because the waters are unpredictable,” McGahey said. “It looks like glass, but the water is moving so fast that they underestimate it and it becomes a dangerous situation.”

Hooksett took the initial emergency call from one of the kayakers, who dialed 911 around 7:40 p.m. after the current had swept the group downstream and pinned the small boats to the buoys. The large, orange balls are fastened to a cable spanning the river, serving as both a warning and final barrier to the Hooksett hydroelectric dam and falls about 100 yards downstream.

Burkush said when rescuers arrived, one person was in the water and the other four were still in the kayaks, which remained precariously above the surface.

Manchester got the call for assistance around 8 p.m. after Hooksett firefighters had retrieved the person from the water and two of the kayakers.

Two others remaining in the kayaks were ferried to shore by the Manchester crew, which launched a pair of inflatable rescue boats equipped with powerful motors.

Even with a 40-horsepower outboard, the experienced members of the Manchester rescue crew decided against going back out for the kayaks after the people were safely ashore. The boats remained there Thursday afternoon.

The group rented the canoes from Edgewater Canoe and Kayak Rental, which is about 200 yards upriver from the buoys.

Messages for owner Rob Littlefield were not immediately returned.

Outdoors Public Safety Hooksett Manchester

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