Boat capsizes, but vests, cell spare two lives

WATERFORD -- Memorial Day fun turned treacherous Monday for two men whose small boat capsized in the cold and fast-flowing Tuolumne River.

Two things saved them: life vests and a cell phone.

When their aluminum boat started sinking about 3:30 p.m., the men grabbed onto a passing tree branch. They called 911 while hanging on.

The mobile phone, fortunately, was equipped with a global positioning system tracking device that enabled Stanislaus County's 911 call dispatchers to pinpoint their location.

That was key to their speedy rescue, according to Capt. Paul Spani, battalion commander with the Stanislaus County Consolidated Fire District.

Had tech-savvy dispatchers not provided the stranded boaters' latitude and longitude, Spani said, it could have been a time-consuming search. Instead, boat rescue teams from the Stanislaus and Hughson fire departments got to them in about 30 minutes.

"The current was very swift and cold there, but they both had their life vests on," Spani said. "Things went exactly as we like them to go."

The 911 dispatcher probably was able to get the precise location because the boaters' wireless phone was relatively new, said Judy Griepsma, shift manager for the 911 dispatch center. She said older phones provide generalized locations, but new GPS technology is exact.

"Our dispatchers plot the lat and long (latitude and longitude) when possible," she said. "They use whatever resource they can tap into to help."

So rather than simply sending rescue crews to the Fox Grove Fishing Access area, near Geer Road, and forcing them to search the river, dispatchers directed them right to the men hanging onto the tree near Waterford's waste-water treatment plant.

The rescued men were not injured. Their identities were not released.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at or 578-2196.