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Fort Drum soldiers describe braving frigid Black River to save woman after canoe accident

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FORT DRUM — Two Fort Drum soldiers braved the cold, rushing waters of the Black River on Monday afternoon to rescue a woman whose canoe capsized, as a third ran to call help.

Thanks to the soldiers’ efforts, the unnamed woman survived, but emergency crews are still searching for the body of the unidentified man who was with her in the canoe.

On Friday, the three soldiers were identified and spoke to the media at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield about what they saw.

Spc. Christopher D. Grant and Pvt. Trenton M. Brown were fishing at the Marble Street public access point off Eastern Boulevard about 6:15 p.m. Monday when the incident occurred. The two 10th Combat Aviation soldiers had just seen the couple launch their canoe, but things quickly took a turn for the worse.

“They were coming down the river, yelling,” Spc. Grant said. As the canoe approached, the man waved and called for help.

Spc. Grant grabbed a 31-yard rope from his car and ran to the nearby fishing pier to try to throw the line to the couple. His first attempts failed.

Another soldier, Pfc. Matthew M. Phillips, wearing shorts and sandals, took the rope and went into the river to help.

“It was the coldest water I have ever been in in my life,” said Pfc. Phillips, a former lifeguard in his hometown of Coeburn, Va.

Spc. Grant, in jeans, boots and multiple layers of clothing, waded into chest-high water and held the rope as Pfc. Phillips reached for the woman.

“I swam as hard as I could,” said Pfc. Phillips, of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

Her companion was an additional 10 to 15 feet away in the water and could not be reached.

Working against the powerful flow, Pfc. Phillips and Spc. Grant brought the woman to safety, while Pvt. Brown went to contact first responders.

Spc. Grant said the woman was breathing, but had little recollection of what had just happened.

“She was so blue in the face, getting to the point of hypothermia,” he said Friday.

The soldiers didn’t get the name of the woman they rescued, and only a limited update of her condition since Monday. Authorities have not released the couple’s names.

The soldiers lamented not being able to save the man.

Spc. Grant called the rescue “bittersweet,” and said the soldiers tried everything they could.

Pvt. Brown said the proximity of the two gave the appearance they were holding each other as they went down the river. Based on her position on the water, he believed the man was pushing the woman up in his final moments.

“He gave his life to save her,” he said. “That’s the hardest part.”

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