A couple clinging to trees in the middle of the rain-swollen Los Angeles River were helped to safety during a dangerous operation by a firefighter swift-water rescue team in the Atwater Village area Friday morning.
Amid a continuing fierce rainstorm, rescuers were first called to the scene at 9:41 a.m., according to Katherine Main of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
About an hour later, a man was located and taken to safety. He told rescuers that his wife was caught in the trees amid the rushing water, and it took almost another hour for her to be transported across the river.
Both people were taken to a hospital in fair condition, Main said.
The rescue effort took place south of the Glendale Boulevard overpass (map) in an area where homeless encampments are set up amid trees on small islands in the middle of the normally shallow river.
"Very dangerous conditions here -- the river was flowing at pretty high volume of water, and there was a great deal of risk to put swimmers in the water," said Battalion Chief Charles Butler. "We got both victims out -- very successful rescue."
The second patient was helped on a stretcher out of the boat and onto a gurney waiting on the nearby bike path, video from the scene showed.
The patients appeared to be transients who had been stuck among the trees that grow out of the natural river bottom, Butler said.
"Those trees become strainers in swift-water rescue terminology," Butler said. "If you get hung up in a strainer, you're likely going to drown."
Rescuers could be seen working in wetsuits and helmets, using ropes as the water flowed rapidly south. A helicopter hovered over the water but was unable to help because of nearby power lines, Butler said.
At one point, a rescue swimmer was swept downstream, prompting others to run after him. Other rescuers twice threw lines into the water, and the rescuer was able to catch hold of the second line and be pulled out onto the concrete bank.
Fellow rescue swimmer Dusty Clark said his colleague was a professional, “outstanding swimmer” who was not in jeopardy during the operation.
The Fire Department planned to review the operation to see what had allowed the rescuer to get caught in fast-moving water, Butler said.
The battalion chief had high praise for his firefighters, saying the specialized swift-water rescue team had trained specifically for this type of emergency.
"We're in the rescue business. We can't just say, 'Hey, we're out of here, we're done,'" Butler said. "Until we make the rescue, we're it."
The Glendale Boulevard off-ramp from the northbound 5 Freeway was closed amid the Fire Department activity, the California Highway Patrol announced on Twitter just before 11 a.m.