'I just prayed': Rescued kayakers say they are lucky to be alive
Posted May 23
Updated May 24
Chatham County, N.C. — Two 19-year-olds who were rescued from the Haw River Sunday night said they are thankful to be alive.
Patrick Pugh and Gina Wright were kayaking down the Haw River with friends when Wright's kayak flipped.
"We were pretty good at first, but we got down the river a little bit and there was a waterfall," said Pugh. "She tried to get over it, but got stuck."
Pugh said he was ahead of his girlfriend, but pulled over as soon as he realized she was stuck.
"She floated about 15 to 20 feet from the waterfall...and grabbed onto a rock," he said.
Pugh was able to get a call out to 911, but they were not rescued for another six or seven hours.
"We couldn't even talk to each other because of the sound of the current," he said. "We could barely scream to each other. We were just screaming, 'Help, help, help!.'"
Crews were able to locate the couple from the river bank, but could not safely make it to Pugh or Wright for a couple of hours.
Two firefighters were able to get through the current using additional weights, Pugh said.
"One gentleman went onto the rock where (Wright) was and he just wrapped around her. He wrapped around her and made sure she was warm," he said.
Because of the weather, a North Carolina State Highway Patrol helicopter could not get to the scene until nearly 11 p.m.
"It was freezing out there. There was rain and it was windy when the helicopter came down. It was so cold I didn't think I was going to be able to hold on," Pugh said.
Pugh said he held onto his girlfriend and prayed.
"It was the most terrifying thing that ever happened to me in my life," Pugh said. "They shut down the highway, they did everything for us. I just can't thank them enough because I wouldn't be here today without them."
The firefighters that waded down to the couple had to stay out in the river for hours after the rescue because they could not be seen by the pilot due to deteriorating weather conditions.
While Pugh said he will likely go kayaking again, Wright said she will steer clear of kayaking on a river.