Man’s a hero on Colo River
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
DOTSERO, Colorado ” What started as a lazy afternoon on the banks of the Colorado River quickly became the story of a harrowing rescue Monday afternoon, when Drew Nelson spotted Mickie Harrison being swept face-down toward the white-water convergence of the Eagle River.
Nelson, who has lived seasonally in Breckenridge but currently resides in Brooklyn, N.Y., and his older brother Jay, who lives in Breckenridge, had stopped off at exit 133 on Interstate 70 to prepare dinner out of Jay’s camper and to fish on the last night of their vacation.
“There were some tubers coming down the river. Suddenly people were screaming ‘She’s off the tube!’ It was chaotic, out of nowhere,” Jay recalled of the peaceful quietude interrupted.
When he emerged from the camper to see what the commotion was about, he saw Drew charging into the middle of the fast-moving Colorado.
From Jay’s vantage point, an empty tube was all that floated past.
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Drew, however, noticed a limp woman who would soon be carried to where the Colorado and Eagle rivers converge, about 200 meters ahead.
“I was beyond thought,” Drew said. “I was trying to find the right line to reach her. The river was taking me with it, and I had to keep an eye on her. It was too deep ” we met in the thick of it. Once we made contact, I had deemed that she was not dead. She was unconscious or as close as you can get. I tried to keep her head above water and swim. She wasn’t resisting; she was limp, along for the ride.”
Drew, who is six foot six inches, was able to pull Harrison, a smaller woman, to the far bank.
In the meantime, Jay and another man had run across the I-70 bridge and down the embankment to help Drew get Harrison out of the water.
Drew said he remembers looking at Harrison and seeing that she was breathing.
“I was holding her head like a baby, supporting her neck, saying: ‘Come back, c’mon.’ She opened her deep, brown eyes, then they rolled back into her head. Watching her open her eyes was like watching an infant open its eyes for the first time. I said: ‘Welcome back, welcome back to earth, because you were about to leave it,'” Drew said.
Harrison said she remembers little of the incident, just snatches here and there, and doesn’t recall falling off her tube.
“I remember somebody lifting me out of the water. I was in and out of consciousness. I don’t remember seeing [Drew’s] face. Thank God he was there. If he hadn’t acted so quickly, I wouldn’t have made it,” she said.
Drew left Harrison in the care of his older brother and the other man and sprinted back to the east bank to fetch a blanket from the camper to wrap around her.
“She started drifting in and out of consciousness,” Jay said. “She was blue, barely breathing, limp. I’ve had some medical training, and I feel this was a matter of seconds before she would have passed away. She would open her eyes, then close them. We were telling her: ‘Come on. Come on. Keep breathing!'”
Harrison’s husband, Kenneth, daughter Kasie and Harrison’s best friend, Linda Cruth, came floating down the river at this point. Drew said he also helped Kasie and Cruth to shore.
“There were some serious, heart-felt hugs,” Drew said. “And I was shaking like a leaf. I can’t wrap my head around it. We were 200 meters away from the Eagle meeting the Colorado. That would have been really bad for both of us.”
The brothers don’t know who called 911, but emergency vehicles arrived in a matter of minutes to transport Harrison to Valley View Hospital.
Doctors told Harrison she was inches from death when she arrived at the hospital because she had water in her lungs and her body’s temperature had dropped so low from hypothermia.
Harrison said she hopes to return to work Friday.
Jay Nelson admiringly called his brother a hero.
“I’m so proud of my little brother and how he reacted. If he wouldn’t have done exactly what he did, when he did it, how he did it, she would have passed away,” he said. “I was like: ‘Wow! Wow, dude, you saved someone’s life!'”
K.J. Hascall can be contacted at (970) 668-4653, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.