By Rick Pfeiffer
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — NIAGARA FALLS — A woman who may have slipped into the cold waters of the Niagara River, just upstream from the Whirlpool, was pulled to safety later Friday afternoon by New York State Park police and Niagara Falls firefighters.
The drama began unfolding between 3:30 and 4 p.m., when Brian Gates, a native Western New Yorker back visiting, and some friends and family, noticed something in the water as they walked along the gorge trail near in Whirlpool State Park.
“I took out my binoculars and it looked like there was a person trying to crawl out of the water,” Gates said. “She looked very tired and she had her head down. She didn’t look like she could hold herself up.”
Gates called for help and Park police and city firefighters responded. Rescuers descended into the gorge and found the woman close to the shoreline.
“She was right at the edge of the shore, but she couldn’t step up (out of the water),” Battalion Chief Cliff Mayes said. “It was more a matter of she didn’t have the strength to pull herself out.”
Fire Captain Mike Perri and Firefighter John Castellani went into the water and were able to pull the woman up on to the shore. Park Police Major David Page said the woman did not appear to be seriously injured.
“She seems to be stable and alert and has minor injuries,” Page said.
The major described the woman as “middle-aged” and “from Western New York,” but did not release any additional information about her pending the notification of her family. Once the woman had been pulled onto the shore, the Erie County Sheriff’s Department helicopter responded and lowered a basket to pull her up to safety.
Officials said because the water in the river has turned cold, in addition to a brisk wind that was blowing during the rescue, they were concerned about the woman suffering from hypothermia.
“I think, from the time we were notified, it took about 20 minutes to get her out of the water,” Page said.
Park police said they don’t know what the woman was doing in the gorge or how she ended up in the water.
“The gorge is open to traffic, but we want them to stay away from the water,” Page said.
The major estimated his officers and city firefighters are called to the gorge an average of 10 to 12 times a year to make rescues.
For Gates, finding someone fighting for their life in the Whirlpool was the last thing he expected to encounter on his nature walk.
“No, not really, we didn’t expect that,” he said.