July 29, 2007

A Troubled Saturday on Valley Lakes: Man, 42, is Saguaro Drowning Victim; Apache Boat Blast Sends Two to Hospital

By Jill Redhage, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.

Jul. 29--Torrential rain and lightning hampered rescue efforts Saturday after a boat exploded at Apache Lake and a man drowned at Saguaro Lake in separate incidents.

Motorists idled for miles along Highway 88, stranded between washes, as rescuers headed to the lakes.

Apache Junction and Rural/Metro firefighters and Maricopa County Sheriff's Office deputies received a call at 2:27 p.m. from the Apache Lake marina, where three passengers were aboard a 27-foot boat that was refueling before it exploded.

"The boat was completely engulfed in flames and is now underwater," sheriff's deputy Charles Scudella said.

Apache Junction fire battalion Chief Mike Farber said a woman suffered a serious laceration on her foot, singed hair and other lacerations caused by flying fiberglass. A man possibly broke his wrist and received lacerations on his body. The third person suffered minor injuries, Dunn said.

Rescuers had planned to airlift the man and woman to a hospital, but heavy rain and hail kept emergency helicopters grounded. Instead, two Southwest Ambulance crews drove the pair to Cobra Valley Hospital in Globe.

"Everything that could go wrong did," Farber said. "It was real bad weather."

Dunn said all that remained of the boat was its burned hull, which sank into the lake. Scudella said the boat will be recovered later.

Dispatchers received another call at 2:27 p.m. on a drowning at Saguaro Lake, and four divers recovered the body of a 42-year-old man at 4:59 p.m.

"The weather stopped the divers for a short time," Scudella said. "But then they did go in and make the recovery."

No further information about the man was available Saturday.

Sheriff's deputies also responded Saturday to three near-drowning calls along the Salt River near its crossing with Bush Highway. Those calls involved a 23-year-old woman at Blue Point and two people at Sheep Crossing, including an 8-year-old.

Dispatchers fielded other calls for water rescues throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

Apache Junction firefighters and Arizona Department of Public Safety officers headed out to three separate disabled vehicles about five miles east of Apache Junction. But rescuers were caught behind flooded washes and had difficulties reaching the stranded motorists.

Muddy water rushed downhill like raging river rapids, and large rocks and tree branches tumbled along for the ride.

In each situation, the motorists were able to get out of their vehicles. At Broadway and Idaho roads in Apache Junction, two occupants pushed their vehicle out of the water. But a vehicle on Mountain View Road near state Route 88 and another vehicle several miles north remained submerged awaiting emergency crews.

Traffic backed up in both directions along the 20 miles of state Route 88 between Apache Junction and Apache Lake. In some cases, lines of vehicles were trapped between two separate flooded washes.

"We were just taking a drive to go to the lake and enjoy the storm, but I guess we aren't anymore," said Mike McDermott, 24, of Gilbert as he stood along the flooded twolane highway between Apache Junction and Canyon Lake.

Nicole Sahlin, 21, of Ahwatukee Foothills looked on as Rokied Rushied, a 17-year-old from Coolidge, waded into the raging wash.

"He shouldn't be swimming in that with all the debris coming down," she said, shaking her head.

Nearby, John Woodroffe of Tempe squatted near his sons -- Tyler, 7, and Nicholas, 4 -- as they waded in the shallows of the wash. Woodroffe opened his cupped hands and out jumped two small frogs. His boys chuckled and set off to catch them.


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Copyright (c) 2007, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.

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