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National Guard soldiers rescued after getting stuck in floodway
WYATT, Mo. -- A Black Hawk helicopter airlifted 23 soldiers and Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers to safety this morning after a night spent on a levee in the floodwaters near Wyatt in Mississippi County.
The Missouri Army National Guard soldiers and troopers needed rescuing after their boats became stuck Thursday afternoon in the flooded farmland at Birds Point.
The National Guard soldiers were securing the Birds Point floodway "making sure no one was out there that didn't need to be out there," explained Trooper Clark Parrott, Troop E's public information officer. "They were just patrolling the floodway ..."
At about 1 p.m., Parrott said, the Highway Patrol received a call that indicated six National Guard boats, carrying 33 soldiers, were stuck in the floodway near Wyatt.
The soldiers were members of the 1438th Engineer Multi-role Bridge Company out of Macon, Mo., according to Lt. John Quinn, 70th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.
"They called the Missouri State Highway Patrol for assistance, (and) we responded," Parrott said.
Troop E's pilot, Cpl. Shawn Price, initially flew over the area and was able to locate the guardsmen, Parrott said.
Price, Parrott said, was able to coordinate with patrol Water Division personnel about going into the area, but their three boats also became stuck during their rescue efforts.
"It sounds simple, how do you get a boat stuck in water (but) the conditions they were operating under, they were in basically in an uncharted lake," Parrott said. "No one knows where the bottom of the lake is, where the obstacles are and the water level was changing."
Parrott said a Water Division officer reported to him that the water level ranged from 15 to 18 feet deep to 12 inches.
After the guard and Highway Patrol boats became stuck, Parrott said, Sikeston Department of Public Safety personnel launched one of their Zodiac boats, which also got stuck.
"At that point, everyone began to put their heads together to figure out" what needed to be done, Parrott said.
Although night had fallen, the guard began rescue attempts for the emergency responders who had made it to a levee, Parrott said.
Fifteen soldiers, two DPS officers and a U.S. Coast Guard rescue diver were brought out Thursday night by helicopter, Quinn said.
When weather conditions deteriorated, operations were suspended at 1 a.m. today, which left 18 soldiers and five troopers still stranded, Parrott said.
"For the safety of all involved, we suspended the operation until daylight when the guard could get a helicopter in there," Parrott said. "All the soldiers and troopers were on dry ground."
The guard, Parrott said, airlifted tarps, sleeping bags, radios, food and water in to those left behind, Parrott said.
At first light, Parrott said, a Black Hawk helicopter flew in and removed the first eight.
The third, and final group of seven, were brought out just before 10 a.m., Quinn said.
"We were certainly prepared to deal with the situation," Quinn said. "We were in constant radio contact all night.
"We got some out and got (the rest) what they needed for the night. They're trained to do this stuff."
The "big message" coming from what happened, according to Parrott, is if the professionally-trained members of the patrol's Water Division and National Guard can encounter problems in the area, "it is unsafe for the local population to come back.
"This time last week, this body of water did not exist; it is uncharted water (involving) several feet (of water) beneath to just about nothing," Quinn said. "These highly trained soldiers and Water (Division) officers do this for a living.
"They're getting stuck and having issues (but have) constant communication and a high support system (available) ... for the public, it's a dangerous place to be."
Parrott said the general public, as well as the residents of the flooded area, "need to wait for the sheriff to give them the all-clear sign" before returning.