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Drone aids Algona boater rescue

Kossuth County locates boaters along log jam

Emergency responders guide Thomas Fitzpatrick, of Algona, and his granddaugther through the water after Fitzpatrick reported having a medical emergency. This photo was taken from the drone which tracked the two. Contributed photo
Emergency responders guide Thomas Fitzpatrick, of Algona, and his granddaugther through the water after Fitzpatrick reported having a medical emergency. This photo was taken from the drone which tracked the two. Contributed photo

By Mindy Baker | Algona Upper Des Moines editor

The Kossuth County Sheriff’s Office used a top-of-the-line drone Wednesday, July 13, to locate two boaters after they became stuck behind a log jam and one of them suffered a medical emergency.

According to Kossuth County Emergency Management Coordinator Dave Penton, Thomas Fitzpatrick of Algona had taken his 10-year-old granddaughter boating just after 5:30 p.m., leaving from the Plum Creek Dam area with intentions of arriving at the boat ramp at Veterans Park. At approximately 8:22 p.m., Fitzpatrick notified family members waiting for the two that they were stuck on a log jam and didn’t know exactly where they were.

The Algona Fire Department deployed its rescue boat at Veteran’s Park and began searching north, while deploying its all terrain vehicle at Plum Creek Dam to search south.

Kossuth County Deputy Jake Radmaker was able to contact the stranded party via a cell phone.

“They didn’t know where they were, so I drove along River Road and would trigger my siren,” said Radmaker. “At about 2300 River Road, they said they could hear me.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Josh Missman was called in to use the TGI Phantom 4, which had been purchased by the Kossuth County Sheriff’s Office at the end of May through a grant.

“We knew we only had about 40 minutes to find them before it became dark,” said Missman, who set up just across the road from where the party had said they could hear the siren. “It took just three-and-a-half minutes to find them once I put the drone in the air.”

At that point, Radmaker teamed up with Penton, who is also a paramedic, as Fitzpatrick stated he was having chest pains and was short of breath.

“That’s when we had Algona EMS paged,” said Penton.

Penton and John Hyink with the Kossuth County Emergency Response Team brought out CERT’s new all terrain vehicle, and drove to the river through the Hurlburt Wildlife Area.

“We got to a point where the ATV couldn’t go any further, and continued on foot,” said Penton.

Radmaker and Penton used the drone, which hovered over the boaters, to make their way to them.

Also coming into play in the rescue was the law enforcement center’s Mobile Architecture for Communications Handling (MACH), which uses GPS to track each officer and deputy.

“I could use the MACH to show the family members where Radmaker was, and let them have an idea of what was happening,” said Algona Police Officer Grant Smith.

The drone captured the dramatic footage of Radmaker and Penton helping the boaters and then discovering that their ATV was stuck.

By this time, Kossuth County Deputy Mike Sankey and CERT’s Hyink had brought a paramedic and emergency medical technician from the turnabout at Hurlburt to where Fitzpatrick was waiting.

“The patient’s condition was deteriorating, and we had Mercy Air Med start enroute,” said Penton. “We initially thought we would have to evacuate the patient from the scene, but the Algona Fire Department sent several firefighters to help carry the patient to where a truck could pick us up.”

It took nearly an hour to get Fitzpatrick back to the waiting ambulance because of the terrain and that the sun had set, leaving the area in total darkness. Algona EMS then transported Fitzpatrick to Kossuth Regional Health Center, where the helicopter from Mercy in Mason City was waiting, and transferred him directly into the helicopter. Brian Bechtel, nursing supervisor for Mercy-North Iowa, verified that Fitzpatrick had suffered a heart attack.

“From the time Mr. Fitzpatrick was loaded into the helicopter to him being in surgery getting a stent placed was only 30 minutes,” said Penton.

Fitzpatrick is currently in critical condition at Mercy, however Bechtel stated that he was doing well, and expectations were to upgrade Fitzpatrick’s condition and move him to a regular unit soon.

The younger boater was transported to KRHC by Penton, where she was treated and released.

“This was a great example of teamwork,” said Penton. “We were able to pull all of our resources together to produce a positive rescue. I am so proud of all of our responders.”

Assisting with the rescue was the Kossuth County Sheriff’s Office, Kossuth County Emergency Management, Kossuth County Emergency Response Team, Algona Police Department, Algona Fire Department and  Algona EMS.