Two rescuers hospitalized when boat capsizes during dead body retrieval


Two Blackhawk Fire crew members were taken to the hospital Monday afternoon after boat capsized on the Rock River during an effort to remove a dead body from the water.

The rescuers were called to the river near South Main Street and Beltline Road a fisherman reported a body in the water. 

But, during their attempt to remove it they found their own lives at risk.

“The Rock River is considered swift water, especially now with the high water,” said Rockford Fire Chief Derek Bergsten. “It is moving very quickly and there’s a lot of debris in it.”

Caught up in the debris was a body. Blackhawk Fire and New Milford Fire Department were the first to respond. 

The high and fast waters of the Rock River made the recovery more difficult.

“Just because of the placement of where the body was hung up at, our boat went in and got hung up on some trees which resulted in the boat flooding and going over. The current pinned it against the island from what we were originally being told, and it started taking in water and overturned,” Bergsten said.

The second rescue boat started to tip and then suddenly overturned, sending crews into the cold water.

One rescuer remained in the water, holding on to  a branch for over 20 minutes before he could be brought to shore, with assistance from the Rockford Fire Department.

“You see, we approached from downstream. Our divers got out of the water and walked up to where the body currently is,” Bergsten continued. “We’re not approaching from the upstream. We’re coming downstream to make sure we don’t get any objects between us and the boat at that time, to make sure we don’t get pinned.”

The second attempt was successful and the body was safely loaded into the rescue boat.

Two rescuers were taken to the hospital for treatment, but both are expected to be ok.

“The one thing we really want to focus on is that all the people that went into the water were wearing their protective gear, and that’s why they were able to get out safely,” Bergsten concluded.

Because of the condition of the body, Winnebago County Coroner Bill Hintz was unable to determine if it was male or female. An autopsy will be conducted later this week.

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