Popartic/iStock/Thinkstock(HOPE, Alaska) — Daniel Hartung’s very first kayaking trip on powerful whitewater rapids almost became his last, if it weren’t for the heroics of a stranger.
On Saturday, Hartung, 64, of Indian, Alaska, attended a bluegrass and whitewater festival near Hope, Alaska, with his wife.
Hartung, who’d been kayaking on flat water for more than 10 years, said that as he and his wife surveyed the waters, she told him that she had a bad feeling about him getting into the churning waters.
But Hartung went anyway.
“There were other more experienced kayakers than me,” he told ABC News today. “So I thought I would go there and felt a little bit safe on trying my first whitewater with experienced kayakers around.”
He went over a set of falls and then hit a rock. Water flooded the kayak and Hartung was tossed into Six-Mile Creek. As he traveled down the river, he hit another rock and then became stuck on a tree.
Other kayakers tried to rescue him as he fought against the raging current.
“The water was so forceful that I could not get myself out of it. I could lift my head slightly above the water to breathe,” he said. “The more I tried to extract myself, the lower my head went until I was not able to breathe anymore.”
As minutes continued went by, Hartung eventually dipped underwater and found himself giving up.
“I kept trying and trying and after a while it just became apparent to me that it was not going, that I was not going to get myself out of this,” he said. “It was very calming. Everything whited out and I blacked out. … No fear, no other thoughts.”
What Hartung didn’t know was that a man named Obadiah Jenkins had appeared.
He pulled Hartung free from under the tree and got him to shore. A group of people, including Hartung’s wife, helped get him up a hill in blankets, where they were met by emergency personnel.
“I just knew at that point there was no way I could let this man die,” Jenkins said. “If I had 1 percent chance of saving his life, I was gonna try it.”
Rescuers performed CPR to revive Hartung. Jenkins, who had turned 33 that day, said there was no better present than seeing Hartung live.
“I remember, first time he opened his eyes, that I could tell he was breathing on his own, I said to him, ‘Nobody dies on my birthday,'” Jenkins said. “I could tell I got a little rise out of him because his eyes went to the side a little bit like, ‘Yeah, OK.'”
Hartung, who is now home recovering from a broken rib, said he plans to stick to calmer waters and would like to buy Jenkins a big steak dinner.
“This guy is a true hero,” he said.
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