Pilot who saved swimmers at Cummins Falls calls rescue ‘risky, dangerous’


JACKSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – The pilot who helped save swimmers trapped at Cummins Falls two days ago said the rescue was risky and dangerous.

Tennessee Highway Patrol pilot Brad Lund was on his way back to Nashville after Putnam County Sheriff’s Office looked for a kidnapping suspect when the swimmers got trapped.

Normally, he would fly a helicopter equipped for water rescue, but there was no time so he made do with what he had.

“I did not see the woman get swept away, apparently it happened as I was arriving overhead,” Lund said.

Lund was only 10 minutes away and couldn’t believe his eyes when he flew over Cummins Falls.

“I saw that it was massive flooding was taking place and I’ve never seen that type of flooding there at Cummins Falls,” Lund said.

Then he saw a child struggling to stay afloat.

“I did see one of the children get swept away,” the pilot said.  “I followed him down the river trying to keep an eye on him.  He was going under the water for five to 10 seconds at a time and he would come up 20 or 30 feet downstream, each time, hitting rocks.”

That child drifted to a sand bar and was rescued by-standers.

In his 20 plus years as a pilot, Lund’s adrenaline was pumping Wednesday as he helped rescue nine people from Cummins Falls in Jackson County.

“My biggest concern really was having somebody fall out of the aircraft while they were trying to get in and I didn’t want to put anybody in any more danger than they were already in,” he said.

In was an unconventional air water rescue.

“It did require skill and precision flying,” Lund said.

Lieut. Lund hoovered his helicopter low to the water and a park ranger on-board threw out life jackets.

“At one point I had the skids of the landing gear of the aircraft was in the water and submerged the skids in the water to get low enough for the victims could reach us.  The park ranger that I had in the back was able to reach out and grab the hands of the victims and pull them in,” he said.

It was a risky and dangerous maneuver.

“Some of our references weren’t very good,” Lund said.  “The water was rushing past us.  The mist from the falls had covered the windshield so we really couldn’t see out of the aircraft.”

Lund showed News 2 one of the normal helicopters used by THP for water rescue, but it no time to get it to Jackson County, and since Lt. Lund was only 10 minutes away, he had to make do with his helicopter since those people were in immediate danger.”

“We did have to be very, very careful,” Lund said.  “There were trees, over-hanging trees, in the area. Obviously there were rocks protruding.  The water itself was not flat.”

Later in the day Lund switched to the helicopter normally used for water rescues complete with a trained crew and hoist and rescued three more people trapped on a sand bar.

The search for the 73-year old woman resumed Friday morning.

News 2 is waiting to hear back from authorities to see if they will continue their recovery efforts this weekend.

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