CHICKALOON, Alaska (WCIA) — Brett Winterbottom was at the right place at the right time this past weekend as he was involved in a heroic river rescue in Chickaloon, Alaska, on Saturday.
Winterbottom, who is from Monticello, has lived in Alaska for the past seven years while working for Mica Guides. He was working the zipline for the company, for just the second-time ever, when he spotted a plane crash landing into the Matanuska River.
Fortunately, Winterbottom was able to quickly jump in a utility terrain vehicle and ride to the water’s edge. That’s when Winterbottom then tied himself to the UTV and waded as far as he could into the water.
Winterbottom said that the plane was completely flipped over, and the family latched onto the tires as it floated down the frigid river.
“They were floating (down steam) and I kept screaming, ‘jump, jump, swim’ to try and encourage them to jump from the tire and swim toward the shore,” Winterbottom said.
This is when the man in the crash began swimming against the current toward Winterbottom, while clutching his 7-month-old in one arm. The man made it to an area in which he could stand up, and that’s when Winterbottom grabbed him.
“He was ready to pass out,” Winterbottom said. “It took every ounce of that man’s being to actually get to that point.”
The other woman in the crash swam to the opposite shore and was airlifted to the rest of her family by a helicopter pilot. While this occurred, the rest of the team initiated the rescue by calling 911 and having an emergency kit ready.
Winterbottom made sure to emphasize that had the family not worked so hard to get to the shore, there would have been no chance of saving them.
“We, as a company, rallied in a blink of an eye to help people we didn’t know,” Winterbottom said. “I just can’t believe how that went down. The timing and the placement of a plane crash like that in Alaska is insane. There’s so much land around here where if you go down you’re dead.”