The Boat Ride
Tuesday, May 24, 1983
Schwabstadl Kaserne, Lechfeld Airbase, Bavaria, West Germany
I stretched out my right leg under the desk. My knee felt pretty good. Earlier in the morning, the doctor cleared me to go back to my Team when they returned from firing site duty. When I told Parks, he had scowled, but said nothing. He had been dropping hints for the past week or so about my staying in Headquarters permanently, but I had ignored them. The last thing I wanted to do was spend the next eighteen months typing reports.
Melvin Jones, the Detachment Clerk, had given me the onerous task of typing Enlisted Evaluation Reports. Every Sergeant, grade E-5 and above, had to have one done every calendar year. It was an eight page long mind-numbing form. There were sections in which the person was given a numerical rating, but also, there were sections that required a short paragraph summation of various aspects of the subject’s performance and character. In an uncharacteristic display of initiative, Major Wilson had put together a booklet to be used for filling out those sections. For each category, he had written six to eight variations and numbered them. When it was his turn for filling out the form, he would just enter the number. Melvin had the other copy of the booklet and would then type in the appropriate paragraph. Melvin had given me the booklet with an evil grin on his face.
Along with the Sergeant-Major, there were five Sergeants First Class, ten Staff Sergeants, and a plethora of Buck Sergeants. Depending on transfers to and from the States, there were anywhere between twenty-five and thirty sergeants in the Detachment at any one time. A lot of mind-numbing forms to fill out.
Staff Sergeant Dave Mikalsky charged through the door. Dave lived at one speed; fast. He ate fast, talked fast, and walked fast. He was Acting HQ Team Sergeant for SFC Gardner, who had taken a month’s leave back in the States. He went to an empty desk, pulled a map out of his pocket and unfolded it on the desktop. “Jim, stop working on those damn EER’s and take a look at this.” He was casual, and we had gotten to be friends; even to the point of going to his house for dinner with his wife, Veronica, who was a Captain in the Military Intelligence unit stationed in Augsburg, and their three-year-old daughter, Heather.
I got out of my chair; glad for any reason to stop typing. Looking at the map, I saw it was a topographical Army Corps of Engineer’s map of Bavaria. “Bavaria. So what?”
“Look here – at the Lech river. See, it flows from Lake Formarinesee in the Austrian Alps all the way to the Danube. It runs right through Augsburg.”
“I know. I’ve eaten in that restaurant on the river, Kälberhalle. They have a schnitzel and spätzle dinner to die for. Plus, they serve Dunkles Weizen; a truly excellent wheat beer with an apple infusion.”
“Forget about the beer! What we can do is get a raft and go all the way from here to the Danube!”
Sergeant-Major Parks and Captain Iverson, the Detachment Executive Officer, came out of their offices, leaned against a desk, and were listening to our conversation.
“Why would we want to do that? I can sign out a van and drive to the Danube.”
“But there are sights along the river that you can’t see from any of the roads. Castles, wildlife sanctuaries, Roman ruins. Plus, there’s some places where it’s like white water rafting.”
“You had me at castles and Roman ruins.” I had a fascination for both. Probably because my father was a history teacher and I was a history buff. “How long would it take? When were you thinking of going?”
“Three days. I figure we can leave on Saturday. Since Charlie Team is coming back on Friday, they have Monday and Tuesday off. And, because you are going back to your Team on Monday, you’ll have those days off too. I already sent a note to Rutowski by the courier and I just got his answer. He’s in.”
Mark Rutowski was one of my roommates and had also become friends with Dave. “Where do we get a raft?”
“Veronica knows a sporting goods supply place in Augsburg. We can rent a raft, paddles, and life jackets from there. We have the rest of what we need here. Sleeping bags, air mattresses, and we can get MRE rations, a field stove, and a four-man tent from Supply.”
Parks spoke up. “Dave, can I interrupt you for a second?”
“Are you out of your fucking mind?”
“I don’t understand.”
“First of all, the water in the Lech is melted snow right out of the Alps. It may be almost June, but that water is forty-five degrees, tops. You go in and you’ll be unconscious in ten minutes and dead from hypothermia in twenty.”
“All three of us can swim. I mean, it’s the Lech. A hundred yards wide at most. It’s not like we’re going down the Mississippi.”
“Okay, so you can swim. Who said you could have a tent, a stove and three days of MRE rations for three people?”
Dave clasped his hands behind his back, closed his eyes, and tilted his head back; his usual pose when he was thinking out a problem. After a few seconds of concentrating, he opened them, smiled, and asked Parks, “Do you like shooting an M-16?”
“Who doesn’t, but I don’t have one. We all have 45’s.”
“I have twelve thousand rounds of ammo that has to be used up before the end of June. That’s when they expire, and Seventh Army won’t give us our new allotment until we use up the current one. Even if I have everyone in the Detachment re- qualify on their M-16, that’s only...”, he thought for a few seconds, ”twenty-two hundred rounds.” Dave also served as the Detachment Armorer.
That surprised me. “I didn’t know ammunition could expire.”
Parks glanced over at me. “It doesn’t. That ammo will be good for a hundred years. But, back about ten years ago, the Defense Department decided that it could expire and so slapped a five-year lifetime on ammo for combat units. Your tax dollars at work, buying ammunition that isn’t necessary. Probably some Undersecretary got a VP job at Remington for pushing that one through.” He turned back to Mikalsky. “What are you suggesting?”
“I’m saying that we take some M-16’s, go over to the rifle range on the airbase, and have some fun some Saturday afternoon.”
“We can’t just take someone’s M-16 out of the armory.”
“Sure we can. I’m the Armorer.”
“Even so, you can’t put two or three thousand rounds through an M-16 in an afternoon without it jamming.”
“I reworked all of the bolts on our M-16’s and fixed the design flaw. They won’t jam.” Dave was a genius when it came to working with firearms. “I just thought of something else. We won’t even have to clean them. We just take the M-16’s of some of the troublemakers. That way, when they get inspected, they’ll get dinged for having a dirty rifle. And, as a punishment, you can have them refill all the magazines we empty.”
“I like it. Okay, you can have the supplies.”
Iverson piped up, “Dave, with that kind of thinking, you could be a Sergeant-Major.”
I liked Captain Iverson. He was like everyone’s father. He was a Reserve officer who, in his fifties, had taken early retirement from the Postal Service when his wife passed away. With his children grown up and on their own, he had requested to be returned to active duty. Also, he was an avid fisherman and had taken the trouble to get a fishing license in Germany, which was no easy feat. Bending over the map, he traced the path of the river with his finger.
“You might want to consider something else here.” We gathered around and looked at the map. “There are four small dams between here and Augsburg.” He pointed, “The first at Scheuring, the next at Prittriching, then Unterbegen and the last at Merching. The one at Merching isn’t finished yet, but you will have to portage around the other three. Also, between Merching and Augsburg, the Bavarian government had underwater barriers installed. They are designed to decrease the flow rate of the river to supply enough water for all the dams. The point is that these barriers create white-water conditions and there are drop-offs; some as high as six feet or more. North of the city, there’s a lot of gravel beds, and later in the summer, it would be difficult to go all the way to the Danube. Being springtime, the river should be high enough to get through”.
Parks looked at the map. “How do you know all this?”
“I’ve fished the Lech extensively. It’s great for trout fishing.”
“You know what else we’ll want to have?”
Dave looked up from the map at me, his eyebrows raised in question.
“Waterproof bags for our clothing.”
“I think I know where to get some.”
“Are you gentlemen going to do any work today?” Major Wilson was standing in the doorway of his office. “DiMarco, are you finished with those EER’s yet? I need to have them because I’m going to Brigade HQ tomorrow and won’t be back until Monday.”
“I’m working on the last one now, sir. I’ll be done in about five minutes.”
“It sure doesn’t look like you’re working on it. Sergeant Mikalsky, if you really do go on this boat ride, please don’t let those two young men drown. Or yourself for that matter. Good Armorers are hard to find.”
I think that was the first joke I ever heard from the Major. Sitting back down at my desk, I typed furiously to finish the form. As soon as I was done, I pulled the page from the typewriter and proofread it. No mistakes. Satisfied, I put it in the manilla folder, rose and took it to the Major’s office and rapped on the door.
“Here are this month’s EER’s, sir. I proofread them all and they just need your signature.” I handed him the file folder.
Pulling one out at random, he scanned it, nodded and replaced it. Closing the folder, he looked up at me. “DiMarco, I just want to say that you have my thanks for the good work you have done over the past six weeks. You’ve been a big help to Jones.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“The Sergeant-Major tells me that you’re going back to C-Team on Monday. Are you sure you don’t want to stay here?”
“Thank you sir, but no. I want to go back to my Team.”
“I understand. That’s all. You can go back to planning your excursion. Just be careful on that river.”
Back in the outer office, Dave and I finished our plans. I had to admit; I was getting excited about this trip. I had spent uncounted hours in a boat or canoe fishing with my father, but that was lake fishing. I had never gone down a river in a raft. It was like we were Lewis and Clarke and were going on some new journey.
Friday came and Charlie Team returned from the remote site, or as it was officially known, the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert site) or Q for short. It was about one-thirty in the afternoon when SFC Murphy came into the office. He stopped at my desk.
“Are you really going to go rafting down the Lech?”
“Sure thing. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
“Well, if you drown, you’re excused from the monthly safety class on Wednesday.”
“No problem.” He went into the Sergeant-Major’s office.
That evening, Mark and I packed for the trip. Two changes of clothing; each in its’ own waterproof bag. Three days of rations. Toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, razor, packs of C-ration toilet paper. A camera with extra film and two paperback books. Two towels and soap. An extra pair of shoes. All went into our rucksacks except for what we would need in the morning. Two canteens with the canteen cup would go on our belts. Sleeping bag; rolled up with the deflated air mattress, tied and put in the bottom pouch. Our roommates, Keith Hatch and Theo Keene were sitting on Keene’s bunk, watching us pack. Of course, we were all drinking Weizens from the room’s community beer supply.
Keene nudged Hatch, “These white boys sure have a strange idea of fun. After two weeks at the Q, I’m ready to hit Munich’s red-light district.”
“I hear you. Tomorrow night. We’ll be thinking of you guys.”
Mark started to laugh. “I hope you’ll be thinking of something else if you go there.”
I added, “Yeah, I didn’t know you felt that way about us.”
Mark started humming the banjo theme from ‘Deliverance’
Hatch laughed, “Screw you. You’re the ones going down the river. Don’t let anyone make you squeal like a pig!”
Eight o’clock the next morning saw us standing outside the door of C-Team’s building. We had our rucksacks, the tent, tentpoles, and camp stove. Dave and Veronica screeched to a halt, Dave behind the wheel of his twenty-year old Volkswagen van, Heather in a child seat in the back. We loaded up and he drove about four miles to the drop-off site.
Mark and I unloaded and carried everything down to the water while Dave filled the raft with his portable air compressor. Veronica stood there, watching us, her arms folded, a very displeased look on her face. Before we dragged the raft to the riverbank, she said, “I still think this is a stupid thing to do. Please be careful. Here’s some sandwiches so you don’t have to eat MRE’s for lunch today.” She handed Dave a bag, gave him a kiss, then climbed in the van and chugged off.
We loaded the raft and pushed off. We were on our way!
It was a relaxing morning. We passed through a wildlife refuge but didn’t see much wildlife, just some birds. By the time lunch rolled around, we had already portaged around three of the dams; Scheuring, Prittriching and Unterbegen. After Unterbegen, we ate the ham and cheese sandwiches Veronica had packed for us. We floated on, and about an hour later, the final dam at Merching came into view. As we approached, we could see that the center span had not been completed. There was a fifteen-foot wide gap in the dam walls right in the center of the river. We paddled to the shore and when Mark and Dave made to get out of the raft, I
“Look, my knee is really killing me from carrying all that gear down the slippery embankments around those dams. Why don’t we just go through that gap? Then we wouldn’t have to carry all this stuff around to the other side.” I had forgotten to bring my knee brace, having not worn it for several weeks.
The two of them looked at the water flowing swiftly between the walls of the unfinished dam.
Mark raised his eyebrows. “I don’t know, Jim. It looks awfully fast and there’s bound to be a drop-off on the other side. Who knows how high it is?”
Dave jumped out of the raft. “I’ll run over and see.” Before either of us could say another word, he was off, running up the slope to the dam. When he reached the top, he disappeared down the other side, then popped back up a few seconds later. He yelled down, “It’s not that steep a drop. Four or five feet.”
Mark turned to me, “I think I’ll just walk over.”
“Well, why don’t I take the raft and the gear? That way, you guys don’t have to carry it.”
Dave had returned. “Sounds like a plan. Let’s make sure everything is tied down good and tight.”
Mark started tying his rucksack to a handhold on the raft wall. “The nautical term is lashed down.”
“What do you know about nautical anything? You’re from Chicago. Now, I know all about the water.” Dave was from Boston.
“You may have seen the ocean, but how much time did you actually spend on boats? My uncle was a commercial fisherman and I would work for him during the summers, out on Lake Michigan.”
Eventually, everything was lashed down tight. They grabbed their paddles; I would only need mine; and pushed me off. Sitting in the middle of the raft, I paddled to the center of the river, then stopped, letting the current take the raft. Slowly at first, then with increasing speed, the raft approached the dam. When the raft was thirty feet from the gap, I knew this was a mistake. Frantically, I tried to paddle sideways out of the current, but no luck. The others were out of sight, on the far side of the dam. The river shot me through the gap and I was airborne, the raft falling out from under me. In my panic, I entwined my hand through one of the guy ropes around the outside of the raft. As the raft fell, I fell with it, into the maelstrom at the bottom of the drop-off.
Four or five feet, my ass. It felt like twenty when I hit the surface of the water next to the raft. The water from above drove me to the bottom, where I slammed into the concrete base of the dam. Then the undertow dragged me back to the underwater dam wall and slammed me into that. Then the raft pulled me back to the surface, where I was able to take in a lungful of air. Then it all happened again. And again. And again. And again. By the fifth cycle, my vision was getting spotty and I was having difficulty breathing in, my body felt as if Mohammed Ali used me as a punching bag.
I don’t know how many times I went around, but the last thing I remember was thinking; ‘my parents are going to be so devastated that I drowned in some stupid river in Germany’.
When I came back, I was floating slowly down the river. Gazing up at the cloudless blue sky, I thought, what a beautiful sight that was. Then I started shivering in the cold water. Something grabbed the back of my lifejacket and then I was being pulled through the water.
“Can you get up?” It was Mark and I saw him bend over me, looking down into my face. I smiled, rolled over to my hands and knees, and vomited what seemed like five gallons of river water. Looking up, I saw Dave pulling the raft to the shore, my paddle in his other hand.
“Are you okay? Nothing came loose from the raft!” He beached the raft and coming over to us, helped me to my feet. I took a deep breath and looked back at the outflow from the gap in the dam’s walls.
“I blacked out and the next thing, you were pulling me out. I grabbed one of the guy ropes when I went over. That must be why I was stuck there. The raft kept bringing me to the surface and I was acting like an anchor for the raft. When I passed out and let go that cycle ended and the river just shot us out.” As I was talking, I was stripping out of my wet clothes while Mark had opened my rucksack and dug out two waterproof bags, one containing my towels and the other a change of clothes and my spare tennis shoes.
After I dried myself off, I started to get dressed and Dave peered at me.
“Maybe I should find a phone and call Veronica to come and pick us up.”
“Why? Because I did something stupid? I’m fine. Besides, it’s only about one o’clock. We can get all the way to Augsburg if we keep on going.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. We’ve got to keep on going. We’d look like a bunch of idiots if everyone found out we only lasted five hours on the river.”
“Okay. Well, then according to what Captain Iverson told us, the first of those barriers should be about a mile downriver. After that, they are spaced about two kilometers apart and he said that there were six of them. We should stop when we get through them all and can see Augsburg.”
Mark was checking the gear in the raft and said, “That sounds good to me. Jim?”
“Let’s go for it. How should we position ourselves in the raft for these falls?”
Dave thought for a few seconds. “I’ll get in front, since I can paddle the fastest and can pick the spot to go over. Jim, you’re the strongest and should be in the back to power us through if we get stuck. Okay?”
I had finished packing my wet clothes and shoes in the empty waterproof bag and was lashing my rucksack back in place. “That’s a plan. You guys get in and I’ll push us off.”
Reinvigorated, we made our way to the center of the river. After about twenty minutes, we saw the first drop-off. It just looked like a dark line across the river. As we got closer, we could see that there were places where the water was falling over smoothly and other places that were rough. Dave pointed to a smooth stretch at the center of the river.
Excited, he shouted, “We’ll go over right there!” And we did. The drop was only a couple of feet and we slid through the foaming water at the bottom and with a few swift strokes with our paddles, we were back in calmer water.
Mark laughed. “That wasn’t so bad. I hope the rest are just as easy.”
The next was, as Captain Iverson had said, about two kilometers further down the river and was a little steeper than the first. We went through it just as easily as the first one. As we proceeded through the next three, the drops became higher each time until, by the fifth barrier, we all had to paddle furiously to get out of the vortex at the bottom. Once we got out, we were in high spirits and looking forward with anticipation to the last falls.
As we approached, we could see there was nowhere along the width of the river where the water wasn’t flowing smoothly over the top. However, there was a mist hanging over the river beyond the drop-off. I began to have a bad feeling about it. We began moving faster and faster and stopped paddling; the current was moving us quickly enough. Through the mist, I could see a couple of fishermen in the river near the right bank.
Then we went over. The drop was higher than the length of the raft which flipped when it hit the water at the bottom. I went flying into the water, headfirst. I sputtered to the surface, still holding my paddle. Mark bobbed up a few feet from me. I could hear shouting and turning, I saw Dave at the bottom of the falls, holding onto a large rock, the water pouring over his head. I tried to swim back to the falls but could make no headway against the current.
Striking out for the riverbank, I managed to get to shallow water after a few strong strokes. Standing up, I turned around to see Mark standing up right behind me. He turned and saw Dave trapped at the base of the falls. “We have to get him out of there!” he shouted and started to make his way back into the deeper water. Suddenly, someone splashed past me and their arm shot out, catching the back of Mark’s life jacket.
“Don’t you even think about going back in there Rutowski!” It was Captain Iverson, dressed in his fishing outfit, waders and all. “The current’s too strong and the water is too cold. Both of you get out of the water.” The raft came floating by me and I grabbed it, throwing my paddle in it. I followed Mark and the Captain to the riverbank, dragging the raft behind me.
Iverson grabbed both of our arms. “I want you two to listen up. I sent Willie, my fishing buddy, over to the DLRG station. It’s only a few hundred yards away. They will get Dave out. That’s what they’re trained for.”
Mark looked up towards the road. “What’s DLRG?”
“Volunteer force. They are for water rescue and safety. Here they come now.” He pointed up to the road where a large van had pulled to a stop. Six men burst out of the van and five came running down to the river’s edge. We watched as one started to walk out onto the underwater barrier, but stopped after about ten feet and retreated, shaking his head. He shouted something up to the man that had stayed with the van. That man reached into the van and pulled something out, then ran down the slope with it.
The three of us ran over to them. They were speaking excitedly in German, too fast for me to understand. One of the men was wearing fishing gear; that must have been Iverson’s fishing buddy, Willie. The man who came down from the van was carrying what looked like an oversized beach ball, except it had big rubber handles on it and was attached to a rope,
Captain Iverson had been following their conversation; he was fluent in German. He turned to us. “Jürgen here is going to throw this ball to Dave. Hopefully, he can catch it and then they can pull him out.”
Jürgen walked back out onto the barrier until the water was up to the middle of his calves. Holding the coiled rope in his left hand, he held the ball by one of the handles and was swinging it back and forth like a bowling ball. Then, with a mighty heave, he let fly. The ball arced up, trailing the rope behind it, and splashed into the water upstream of the barrier. It floated towards the barrier, then went over right above where Dave was trapped. It hit Dave in the head and he tried to grab it but missed.
Jürgen coiled the rope again, pulling the ball back through the water to him until he could pull it out. Then he tried it again. This time, Dave was able to grab the rope and then latch onto the ball. Slowly, Jürgen backed out of the river, feeding the line out as he reached the bank. One of his comrades grabbed onto the rope and they walked downstream about twenty meters, then started hauling the line in. Dave was jerked out of the vortex and they reeled him in like a fish.
While he was being pulled ashore, I heard the distinctive wailing of an ambulance siren and looking up to the road, saw it come to a stop next to the DLRG van. Two paramedics came down to the river with a stretcher. The three of us went over to where Dave was being pulled onto the shore and gazed down at him. I had been a lifeguard at a local pool back home and had even pulled a swimmer out once, but I had never seen anything like this. Dave’s skin was blue and his teeth were chattering so loud it scared me. “Ccccccold” was all he could manage to stutter out. The paramedics ripped off his clothes right there and wrapped him in blankets, then loaded him on the stretcher.
The Captain spoke quickly to the paramedics, then turned to us. “They are taking him to Meringer hospital. I’ll follow in my car. You two go with the DLRG guys to their station and get dried off and into dry clothes. They’ll take you and the gear back to Schwabstadl. Don’t worry, I will call Dave’s wife and let her know what’s happened. You two have to let Parks know.”
Mark and I looked at each other. That was not going to be a fun conversation.
I replied, “Yes, sir.” What the hell else could I say?
The paramedics and Iverson left, and Mark and I unlashed all the gear from the raft, then began deflating it. As we pushed the air out, the DLRG guys came over and grabbed our rucksacks and the tent and stove and hauled them up to the road. When the raft was deflated, we folded it and carried it up to the van. We all climbed into the van for the short ride over to the station.
After getting dried off and changed, Jürgen said in English, “I drive you to Schwabstadl now.” He grinned and waved at us to follow him. When we got back to the Kaserne, he dropped us off at our barracks and we proceeded to haul everything inside to our room. Fortunately for our self-esteem, it was after dinner on Saturday evening, so the place was deserted.
We went over to the HQ building and going up to the second floor, knocked on the door to Parks’ quarters. The door was yanked open and Parks stared at us for a second. “What the hell happened? I thought you were on your way to the Danube.”
As briefly as possible, I explained. He stood there for a few seconds, not saying anything, then, “Okay. Rutowski, run over to C-Team and get Murphy and come back. DiMarco, go get a van. I’ll be waiting out front.” Then he closed the door and we left.
When I pulled the van up to the HQ building, Mark was waiting at the curb and got in the back. Parks and Murphy were inside the door, talking. Then they came out, Parks getting in the front seat and Murphy heading back to C-Team’s building.
“Totally unrelated to this, I’ve been thinking, and I have a solution to my Jones problem.”
“I didn’t know you had a problem with Melvin, Sergeant-Major.”
“I don’t, not really, even though he drinks like a fish. My problem is that the clerk’s job is too much for one person, but not enough for two. He’s been twiddling his thumbs ever since you’ve been in headquarters. What I’m going to do is assign you to HQ half-time. When you’re not at the Q or on Kaserne duty, you will work in HQ. You will still get the time off for going to the Q, but you won’t have to go to the training sessions with your team. Murphy agrees and told me that you could teach most of them yourself anyway. This way, you can get some experience in the other areas, like the weapons shop working with the Warrant officers on the warheads. Or, in the armory with Mikalsky if he lives. Well, what do you say?”
There was only one answer I could give. As Sergeant-Major, he could assign me to any duty he felt like and I would have no recourse. At least now, I could do some more interesting things than learn for the hundredth time the proper way to put on a gas mask or to clean a rifle.
“I can do that. It sounds interesting.”
“But no more of your shenanigans! I swear, between you two and Gibson, I’ve never had three soldiers who did so many stupid things and lived to tell about it. Now, lets get to that hospital so I can let Captain Mikalsky yell at me for letting her husband go off half-cocked.”
At the hospital, we found Dave’s room and went in. Captain Iverson was standing at the foot of the bed, Veronica seated in the chair next to the bed with Heather on her lap. Dave was swathed in blankets, wrapped up like a large baby.
Veronica gave us a scathing look. “Moderate hypothermia. He’s got to stay a couple of days for observation. No more rafting trips. If you guys want to do something else dangerous, find someone else.”
Dave coughed, “You know, honey, there’s an outfit down near Landsberg that runs a hang-gliding school and, well, I was just thinking...”
Thursday, 2 June 1983
In the inflatable boat over the Lechwehr
DLRG-Mission rescues US soldiers from maelstrom
Konigsbrunn/Schwabstadl. On Saturday, May 28, 1983, the three American soldiers Mark Rutowski (Chicago), James DiMarco (Cleveland) and David Mikalsky (Boston) will not forget that day. It was the day when they took the inflatable boat over the large Lechwehr southwest of Kissing, got into the vortex and were able to save themselves with a little help. David Mikalsky had to be taken to the Meringer Hospital, completely exhausted.
The three young Americans stationed in Schwabstadl had decided to spend four days off with a boat ride down the Lech to the Danube. For their outing, they had with them clothes, food, a tent and also a small oven for cooking, all well-packaged. At the dam between hiking point 22 and 23 they took the boat out of the water and re-entered it in the Lech. And it went on, always floating downstream.
However, they did not expect the Lech to have underwater ridges to reduce the flow rate in addition to the dams. When they noticed that it was becoming dangerous, it was already too late. The raft fell into the pull of the fall and, overturning, plunged several meters in free fall into the middle of the underwater vortex.
The three American soldiers wore life jackets. Mark Rutowski and James DiMarco were able to save themselves and get to the shore. David Mikalsky, on the other hand, whose life jacket had slipped over his head, held on to the boulder in despair. He feared that he would disappear in the vortex.
A fisherman who witnessed the incident was taken to the DLRG rescue station at Kissinger Weitmannsee. Normally the station would not have been occupied this weekend due to the cool weather, but away from the DLRG festival (extension of the rescue station) on 18 June, a working group was on the station. The DLRG men ran to the Lechwehr and first threw a ball with a rope to David Mikalsky, who was still fighting in the cold water, the help of which he let himself drift a bit out of the vortex. Then Jürgen Wächter from the DLRG station pulled him out of the water with the rope. The Sanka of the BRK brought the completely hypothermic David to Mering to the hospital. The other two were able to change with the guards at the DLRG station and were soon good again.