Ohiopyle river guides recognized by Carnegie Hero Fund Commission
If not for the efforts of two local whitewater rafting experts, Arnetta Johnson and Raecyne Bechtold could have been — literally — dead in the water last June.
Luckily, Eric Martin and Patrick Nolan McCarty saw the women, grabbed two single-person kayaks — one from a complete stranger — and launched into the Youghiogheny River near Ohiopyle, rescuing Johnson and Bechtold and earning recognition from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission in Pittsburgh.
The women were whitewater rafting down the Yough on June 26, 2017, when their raft overturned, flowed past the take-out point and became stuck at the Gap Trail bridge pier in the middle of a fast, swollen river, according to commission investigators.
Fire sirens and ranger activity is not unusual on that particular stretch of the river, said Martin, who owns Wilderness Voyageurs, which organizes river tours and other outdoor activities.
“I could see the rangers and all the (clamoring), and it seemed like they were pretty frantic and might need additional assistance,” he said.
Johnson, 55, of Philadelphia was partially submerged and clinging to the underside of the raft as Bechtold, 45, lay on top of it.
Martin, who splits his time between Ohiopyle and Colorado, headed toward the river, and when he saw the situation, acted quickly.
“I asked someone from our business to grab me a boat, but as I turned around, there was a car coming across the bridge with a boat on top,” Martin said. “So I kind of jumped in front of the car and told him to give me his boat.”
As Martin was headed toward the river’s edge, McCarty came running down as well.
“I told him (I had) another boat coming,” Martin said.
Both men launched into the river without any safety gear. Martin paddled over to Johnson, who grabbed onto his kayak as the raft dislodged from the bridge pier. McCarty paddled around to the front of the raft — which was now headed toward a 20-foot waterfall — and used his kayak to slow the raft and guide it to the riverbank where Bechtold, a Connellsville resident, reached safety.
Martin and McCarty were among 18 Carnegie Hero Fund honorees announced this month . All are cited for risking their own lives in attempts to save others.
They were nominated by a fellow river guide.
“Both Patrick and I were initially a little reluctant,” Martin said. “It was an incident that a lot of river guides could have handled. I think we were both very surprised (by the recognition).”
Those selected for recognition by the commission are awarded the Carnegie Medal, and they, or their survivors, become eligible for financial considerations, including one-time grants, scholarship aid, death benefits and continuing assistance.
To date, more than 10,000 medals have been awarded, the recipients selected from more than 90,000 nominees. About 20 percent of the medals are awarded posthumously. Awardees are announced four times a year, following meetings of the commission.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.