Storm Center > Flood-Stranded Elderly Man Rescued by Entergy Airboat
Flood-Stranded Elderly Man Rescued by Entergy Airboat
Turn around, don’t drown. It’s a mantra we’ve all been advised to follow when confronted by water covering the road in a flash flood. But what if you turn around, then the road you just came in on is suddenly covered with water, too? That was the dilemma faced by 93-year-old Leon Payne of Russellville mid-day Sunday when the Arkansas River floodwaters trapped him on Highway 154 East near Danville.
Payne had no cell phone and nowhere to go. So he waited. For hours. In the sun. As waters continued to rise, a local farmer, J.R. Cross, in a very large John Deere tractor, was doing what he could to recover livestock and tend to his property when he spotted Payne stranded on high ground. Cross picked Payne up and drove him as far as he could toward safety. But the water was too deep for the tractor to cross, so Cross, who did have a cell phone, called 911. First on the scene were members of the Yell County Mounted Patrol, a group of volunteers who help with everything from fires to water rescues, and a Yell County sheriff’s deputy.
At the moment, the emergency responders had no means to get to the victim. But they knew someone who did. One of them was aware that Entergy Arkansas had been scouting the floodwaters in airboats nearby, and he tracked them down just after the linemen had loaded one of two boats on its trailer. Entergy had brought four of the airboats, along with experienced pilots, up from south Louisiana last Wednesday as flooding was in progress and getting worse.
Sunday morning Line Supervisor Shawn Morris and Serviceman Brad Reddin had been airboating across the floodwaters looking for damaged poles and disconnecting segments of power lines to protect people and equipment from the rising floodwaters. When asked by the emergency team to help, they didn’t hesitate.
Morris and pilot Ian Comeaux fired up the huge fan on the back of the flat-bottom watercraft and quickly located the tractor bearing Payne. They helped the rattled and weary victim off the tractor and onto the boat, gave him some much-needed water to drink and assurance that everything would be alright. Then they delivered him and his walker and cane to the shore. A Yell County sheriff’s deputy drove Payne the last leg to his home in Russellville. Reddin said he was told Tuesday morning that Payne was resting comfortably at home.
“Out here in the small communities we serve, we take care of each other,” said Reddin, who’s lived in the area for 56 years and worked for Entergy Arkansas for 35. “We have electricity-related work to do, but we’ll always stop and help someone in trouble. It’s who we are, and I appreciate Entergy encouraging us to take action when confronted with a challenge like this one.”
“This flood has been catastrophic for the River Valley area that we serve,” said Morris. “I’m really proud of our team during this crisis. They sincerely care about the customers, who are their neighbors and their families, and they’d do just about anything to help. And when you have an elderly man surrounded by floodwaters and we have an airboat, you can bet we’re going to get involved.”