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Rescuers Save Hunter from Des Moines River Backwater

By Cindy Iutzi/Gate City Staff Writer

15 December 2003

Many miracles go unheralded, but the rescue of a Keokuk hunter from freezing chest high water in the Des Moines River backwater Saturday will be remembered by many as a Christmas gift to two families.

Dan Winn, 46, and Bill Winn, 60, two brothers from Keokuk, were hunting for deer in the heavily wooded Des Moines River slough, walking on snow-covered ice.

They'd hunted that area many times safely, but when Dan returned home near dusk his brother had not, so he went back out to look.

"He fired his gun, that's the only way I found him," Dan said. "It was after dark, so I knew he wasn't shooting at a deer."

Bill had fallen through the ice into about four feet of frigid water about a mile from 2274 Johnson Street Road. He was trapped.

Dan located his brother and immediately tried to reach him, but his efforts to save Bill only became perilous for them both.

"We were about a block apart when I went waist deep in water," Dan said.

"I realized we were both going to die if I didn't get out. I started backing out. The hardest thing I ever had to do was to leave him there."

Dan struggled home, about a mile, and phoned for help.

The Jackson Township Volunteer Fire Association responded immediately.

"My clothes were frozen to me," Dan said. "By the time I changed Jackson Rescue was here. I had to take them down there. By that time it was completely dark. It was 7 (p.m.) by the time they got him out."

Rescuing Bill was not an easy matter, and more people would get wet and cold before the rescue was accomplished.

"They got him in a small boat," Dan said. "They had to wade through the water and timber to do it. They lifted him into the boat and they had to wade out pushing it."

Fire Chief Paul Henson said that rescue volunteers got the boat close to Bill, but had to get in the water and break the ice to get the rest of the way.

After they got him to dry land, they loaded him on an ATV and brought Bill to an awaiting Lee County EMS ambulance.

"We had requested Air Care, but they would be an hour out of Iowa City or 30 minutes out of Quincy (Ill.)," Henson said.

"We had called so that we could use their search light, or have them land down there if we couldn't get an ambulance out.

But when we got him out of the ice, we were able to get him to the ambulance."

Bill was taken to Keokuk Area Hospital and was treated and released.

Monday morning he was sleeping, but his wife, Jackie, expressed his appreciation for the rescue squad's work.

"I'll tell you what, the volunteer firemen were terrific and they are trained well," she said. "It's a total miracle. And thank God his brother didn't go after him."

Jackie said, "Bill told me 'It makes you appreciate life. You think when you don't get your deer it's tragic. But that's the least of your worries.'"

"He is so thankful for the good rescue people," she added.

Bill's legs are swollen and bruised from the ordeal, but he is on the road to recovery," she said.

Don looks forward to his 47th birthday on Christmas Day, thankful for the gifts of both his and his brother's lives.

And Henson has high praise for the way personnel at KAH treated the five firefighters who had shown signs of hypothermia after being in the water for an hour.

"They treated my firemen great," he said. "As busy as they were, they were awesome there."

Also assisting were the Iowa Highway Patrol, Lee County Sheriff's Office and Keokuk Volunteer Emergency Corps.   

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