Nevada City resident describes helping woman who almost drowned in South Yuba River
May 21, 2018
The woman floated facedown in the South Yuba River, possibly already dead.
Tess Engel, who jumped in the river to save the unnamed woman, feared the worst. Engel knows what the fast, cold water can do. Purple skin, eyes pointed in different directions — the river almost drowned the woman in her 20s.
Instead Engel and two men are credited with saving the woman's life.
"When I did pull her out of the water, I wasn't sure she was going to make it," said Engel, a Nevada City resident who soon will begin a four-year medical program to become a physician.
Engel and a friend went Friday afternoon to where the South Yuba River crosses under Highway 49. They were watercolor painting just before 6 p.m. on a rock when they heard someone yelling.
"I thought it was people kind of playing around," Engel said.
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Then she saw the woman bobbing up and down as she floated down the river. A man, who Engel later learned jumped in earlier to save her, floated nearby.
A man on the rock jumped in to help. Engel paused for a moment before shedding her clothes and jumping in herself. Wearing jeans, Engel said she knew the clothes would weigh her down.
About 20 to 30 seconds passed from when Engel first spotted the woman to when she reached her on the river's far side.
"When I got there, I realized just how bad it was," she said. "She was facedown in the water, floating."
Both men who'd jumped in to help were exhausted. Engel clambered onto shore and grabbed the woman's arm, pulling her toward land. One of the other men climbed from the water to help, and the pair lifted the woman onto a rock, she said.
The woman's skin was purple. Her eyes looked in different directions. Engel said she squeezed the woman's cheeks until she could fit her fingers inside the woman's mouth, opening an airway.
"We think there was a lot of water in her lungs," Engel said.
Moving the woman to her side failed to force the water from her. One of the men then volunteered to perform CPR.
No change happened at first. The fifth round of CPR brought results, Engel said.
The nonexistent to faint pulse grew stronger. The woman's lips began to move, and she began breathing on her own.
Someone on the bridge had cell phone reception and reached authorities, a call Engel said happened about three minutes after she first spotted the woman. First-responders arrived about 10 to 15 minutes later. Authorities said they used a rope system to lift the woman almost 75 feet to the bridge. She then was taken to by helicopter to Sutter Roseville Medical Center.
"Be very cautious," Engel advised people of the river. "It changes every year. Just watch out for each other, too."
To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.
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