Police officer saves woman from turbulent dam water after raft capsizes

PHOTO: Police officers work to save a couple struggling to stay afloat in rushing dam water after their raft capsized in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday, July 29, 2019.PlayDes Moines Police Dept.
WATCH Police bodycam video captures harrowing Iowa river rescue

Police officers in Iowa are being lauded after body-camera footage captured their tremendous grit and strength as they worked to rescue two individuals trapped in churning, powerful dam waters.

Police were called to the Scott Street Bridge in Des Moines on Monday at around 9:30 a.m. after reports of people yelling for help, according to a post on the Des Moines Police Department's Facebook page.

"They arrived to find that an inflatable raft had capsized in the river, and two people were trapped in the turbulent waters of the dam, at times being pulled below the surface of the water," the department's post said. "Officers, assisted by an anonymous good Samaritan, quickly entered the river and began rescue efforts."

In a police incident report filed on Monday, Officer Brian T. Oswald said he was the first on the scene.

PHOTO: Police officers work to save a couple struggling to stay afloat in rushing dam water after their raft capsized in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday, July 29, 2019. Des Moines Police Dept.
Police officers work to save a couple struggling to stay afloat in rushing dam water after their raft capsized in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday, July 29, 2019.

Osward said when he arrived at the dam, a couple, ages 44 and 49, were in the water and wearing life jackets but "both individuals' heads kept getting sucked under the water." The woman's vest was also not properly applied, he said.

An unidentified bystander who'd heard the couple's screams had run to the water's edge and tried to throw a rope to the duo. However, the rope was too short to control and the woman could not grab a hold of it, Oswald said.

With the woman repeatedly getting stuck in the undertow of the dam, Oswald said he decided to rescue her first. Body-camera video showed him holding onto the rope with the woman desperately trying to hold onto the other end.

As he pulled her over the edge of the dam, another officer held onto his duty belt to prevent him from falling over, he said.

On his body camera, Oswald could be heard yelling to the woman.

"All right. Hold on! Don't let go! ... Just keep holding on. Don't let go! Don't let go! Don't let go!" he told her.

Later, as the woman's head continued to go under the water, Oswald could be heard encouraging her.

"Come on! Kick! Kick! You're good!" he yelled.

And then, "Back up. I got her."

PHOTO: Police officers work to save a couple struggling to stay afloat in rushing dam water after their raft capsized in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday, July 29, 2019. Des Moines Police Dept.
Police officers work to save a couple struggling to stay afloat in rushing dam water after their raft capsized in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday, July 29, 2019.

As the woman was pulled to safety and checked by first responders, Oswald said another set of officers turned their attention to the man and rescued him.

The couple told the officers that they were floating in the water when the raft went over the dam and capsized. The woman told police that she got on the raft close to where it had capsized and had been in the water for almost five to 10 minutes, Oswald said.

Both were taken to a hospital, treated and released. The officers involved in the rescue returned to duty afterward.

In its Facebook post, the police department praised its officers for their work.

"DMPD is proud of the courageous and selfless commitment of these officers, and of every member of our family who serves this community, 24/7!" the post said.

It also reminded residents and visitors in the area to be safe and aware of their surroundings, particularly when around dams.

"Our lakes and rivers are inviting places to relax, cool off, and play during the summer. ... Wear a life-jacket. Follow the posted warnings as you near dams, and turn around or exit," the department said. "Too often, going over the dam will trap a person in the spinning waters, and the results are fatal. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending."