The stormy night of April 27 and early morning hours of April 28 were a marathon of nonstop service calls for Rural Electric Cooperative’s Brandon McCaskill that resulted in an unforgettable finish.
Quick thinking and steady nerves helped McCaskill rescue a motorist trapped by rushing water in a road washed out by overnight storms near Pernell, Oklahoma. The journeyman-lineman was on his way to another outage around 5:30 a.m. he came across the woman, a member of Lindsay-based REC, struggling to hang onto a rock in a raging creek.
“It still seems unreal in my mind,” said McCaskill, an REC lineworker for about four years. “I know it happened, but it’s hard to believe.”
McCaskill, who had been on duty since 9 p.m. Tuesday, had just reached a road with a makeshift, “tinhorn” bridge crossing a creek. Driving rains had washed out the bridge and road.
“I went to back up and turn around and go a different route, and I rolled down my window so I could see better because it was dark and raining,” said McCaskill. “I heard a whistling noise and I thought it was a bird. I stuck my head out the window and I heard someone yelling for help.”
McCaskill stopped his truck, grabbed his headlamp and ran over to investigate.
“I saw a lady, standing chest-deep in the water, holding onto a rock, trying not to get swept away,” he said. Her car was nearby, nose down in the water.
First responders later determined that the driver, whom the co-op declined to identify, couldn’t see the damaged road and had fallen about 15 feet, while still inside her car, into a ditch. She kicked out the window, freed herself and grabbed onto a rock. She had been hanging on for 20 to 40 minutes when the lineworker heard her cries for help.
“I knew she was in trouble, and the first thing that came to my mind was to call for help,” said McCaskill.
He ran back to his truck and asked the co-op’s dispatcher to call 911. And then he rushed back to the scene with a handline, his headlamp illuminating the pitch blackness.
“I got in the middle of the road and threw [the handline] out into the water and let it float to her so she could see it or catch it. I told her to wrap it around her body and tie a knot in it.”
But by then, fatigue had set in, and McCaskill, trying to keep his own nerves in check, had to coax her to keep walking.
“She was telling me she couldn’t move her legs. I don’t know if it was because of shock or she was in the water for so long. But I finally got her to let go of the rock and try to walk towards the bank while I was holding onto the rope. She was able to just give me enough leverage that I was able to pull her all the way up on the bank.”
McCaskill pulled the woman to solid ground. “She appeared to have scratches and cuts, and she was soaked wet and very much in shock. But she was safe,” he said.
A few minutes after the rescue, first responders from the Elmore City Fire Department and the Pernell Volunteer Fire Department arrived.
McCaskill credits the co-op’s constant, rigorous safety training for the successful outcome.
“That readiness in an intense situation sticks with you. Even though I wasn’t 100% calm, I was still calm enough to tell the dispatcher where I was, what was going on and get help to someone,” he said.
Dusty Ricks, the co-op’s CEO, said the rescue shines a spotlight “on the kind of people we have working at REC. This is a moment where training is critical, and we are proud of the quick thinking and [McCaskill’s] immediate response.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.