Officer Saves Hiker From Drowning In Whirlpool With Makeshift Life-Saving Device

Madera County Sheriff's Office / Facebook

On May 9, 2020, an off-duty state patrol officer jumped into action after a 24-year-old hiker was caught in a whirlpool when he fell into the water at Angel Falls in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

CHP officer Brent Donley is trained in search and rescue and managed to quickly fashion a rescue device using straps from his backback tied to a tree branch to pull the victim to safety.

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A 24 year old Fresno man needs to buy a lottery ticket because today is his lucky day! He had been hiking along Willow Creek above Bass Lake at noon today when he arrived at Angel Falls. Misjudging the swiftness of the water, he decided to walk across. With snow runoff, the water is flowing at 50-80 feet per second. That’s about like 50-80 basketballs full of water every second. The flow overwhelmed and swept him into a whirlpool, which held him under. Here’s where his luck comes in. Hiking in the same area, at the same time, was an off-duty CHP Officer from the Fresno Area, who just happens to be trained in Search and Rescue and in possession of a rope. Off-duty Officer Brent Donley saved the drowning man by throwing him a rope and pulling him to safety. Donley stayed with the man and provided first aid until Search and Rescue deputies and EMS arrived. We sincerely thank Officer Donley for his quick-thinking and preparedness. This Search and Rescue call could have ended very badly if not for his help. Please – if you are planning on visiting the mountains – do not attempt to cross swift water and make safety part of your plan. *This video shows our deputies retrieving the victim’s backpack from a whirlpool* #hero #searchandrescue #swiftwaterrescue #sierranationalforest #somegoodnews

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Whirlpools can be incredibly dangerous depending on the size and can happen anywhere water is flowing. They are caused when two opposing currents of water meet and create a funnel with a powerful downdraft. Though some might appear to be small or hard to see, they can often trap a person underwater making it very hard to escape.

With the snowcaps melting as summer approaches, the rivers in California are stronger, with faster currents that can lead to an increased number of whirlpools. In addition to the dangerous currents, the melted snow that makes up these rivers is still extremely cold.

Donley told ABC7 News,

“I wasn’t panicked at all. I was trying to be quick about it because I didn’t know how much more time he had in the water, and I didn’t know how long he’d been in the water.”

Officer Donley stayed with the man and provided first aid until search and rescue deputies and EMS arrived at the scene.

Watch the video of the daring rescue below.