UPDATED: HEROES! Hermann first responders save the life of a man fighting to stay alive in the Missouri River

Story and Photos
by Jeff Noedel

Hermann EMS, Hermann Police and Hermann volunteer firefighters -- working in concert -- saved the life of a man who was ejected from his 14-foot aluminum fishing boat and who was struggling to get ashore.  According to eyewitnesses, the man -- now identified as Ricky L. Dixon, 44, a Hermann resident -- fell out of the boat at about 12:45 to 12:50 p.m.  He was fishing.  According to a report by the Mo. Water Patrol, Dixon was reaching into the water "to retrieve a fishing stringer when he struck the motor tiller handle causing the boat to execute a hard starboard turn, ejecting the operator into the water."  One woman witnessed Dixon falling into the water, while numerous people told CNL they heard him yelling for help; some said they were as far as 2 or 3 blocks away from the river when they heard Dixon yelling for help.

Witnesses said Dixon was in the fishing boat alone.  He fell out of the boat when the boat was next to Riverfront Park.

The radio call initially went out not as a water rescue, but as a "possible drowning."

It appears that Dixon was attempting to swim to shore, because by the time Hermann Police Officer Kevin Cross arrived, the boat was already far in the center of the wide river and the man was a few hundred feet from the shore.  Cross said he knew Dixon was still alive because he saw him bob up and down.  By this time, Dixon was across from Hermannhof.

Cross and one of the Hermann EMS crews then sped east on Hwy. 100 to try to get ahead of Dixon floating down the river.  They parked their vehicles in the new lot at the Dierberg History Farm and ran an additional 1/4 mile east on the railroad tracks.  Hermann Police Dispatch immediately notified Union-Pacific that there was a water rescue underway and the railroad stopped all trains passing through Hermann.  Cross, Hermann EMS paramedics Jackie Engemann, Amanda Meyer, and Kyle Quick, several firefighters and Hermann Electric Department lineman Jesse Geltz, who was working nearby, went down a steep bank to the water's edge -- a location directly under the Hermann Hill complex.

Officer Cross was one of more than a half-dozen witnesses to the in-river rescue of Dixon, estimated to be in his 40s.  Cross told CNL, "they tied Jackie to a rope and she swam out to intercept the man.  He was still about 75 to 100 feet from the bank, and he was getting weak.  He was yelling, 'I'm not gonna' make it.'"

Cross said Engemann swam against the current and got to Dixon.  She quieted him and got him to lie on his back.  Cross, Hermann volunteer firefighters and Geltz pulled Engemann and the man ashore.

Asked if he thought Dixon would have made it to shore on his own, Cross said flatly, "No."

Once the man was secure on the shore, Hermann Fire Chief Dave Schulte arrived at the rescue scene by boat.  It was decided that the fastest way to speed the patient to a waiting ambulance was via the boat, so they put Dixon on the fire department boat and motored back to the Riverfront Park landing.  Hermann EMS paramedic Kyle Quick rode with the patient on the fire department boat. (Pictured left)

Meanwhile, a celebratory mood swept over the rescue scene by the railroad tracks, with paramedics hugging and Hermann police officer Kevin Cross exclaiming "commendation!" to paramedic Jackie Engemann.  A few minutes later, Cross snapped a personal photo of the two smiling paramedics standing by their ambulance.

According to Hermann Police Chief Frank Tennant, the identity of the man still was not known when he was being put into the ambulance.  Tennant said the man was conscious, but could not talk.  He said it appeared the man had taken-in some water.  Tennant said first responders tried to discern if the man was local by asking him where he put-in his boat, because there was no boat trailer evident at the landing.  Tennant said the man said he put in "at home," suggesting he might live on or near the river.

Hermann Fire also recovered Dixon's empty boat about 15 minutes down stream.  Chief Schulte told CNL the motor as still running.  Instead of towing it back to Riverfront Park, Schulte's son Travis Schulte just hopped in the empty boat and drove it back to the landing.

At 2:04 p.m., Hermann Police were trying to identify the owner of the boat that was recovered by Hermann Fire.  At 2:05 p.m. officer Cross radioed Tennant and said he had identified the man, Rick Dixon, a worker for the State of Missouri.  Cross said Dixon told him, "He reached over to lean into the water and he fell in."

Paramedic Engemann (left) spoke with CNL after the water rescue.  When asked how she learned to swim so well, she said she is a former lifeguard with YMCA and Red Cross certification.  She said when she reached Dixon, he was excited and he was "getting turned around."  She said she managed to calm him, and she held him while men on shore pulled them in by rope.  Engemann was wearing a floatation device, but that does not diminish the fact that she had to swim cross current in the Missouri River.

Tennant told CNL he spoke with Dixon at Hermann Hospital.  Said Tennant, "I think he'll be fine.  He swallowed enough Missouri River water...I'd want a tetanus shot.  But he is very thankful.  He said, 'If not for the first responders, I'd be dead.'  I said to him, "Thank Hermann EMS...she jumped in the water for you.  And on Sunday, go to church!  You fought the Missouri and you won!"

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