Local News

Two Men, Dog Rescued After Capsizing In Cape Fear River

Posted August 7, 2003 11:48 a.m. EDT

— Two men and a dog are safe after a dramatic rescue Wednesday on the Cape Fear River just north of Erwin.

Officials say the two men got into trouble Wednesday when their canoe capsized. Neither one was wearing a life vest.

One of the canoeists, Seth Swaim, was able to climb a tree in the middle of the rain-swollen river and used his cellphone to dial 911.

"Our canoe flipped," Swaim told the dispatcher. "And I managed to grab hold of the tree, and I'm sitting in the tree in the middle of the river right now."

"Stay where you're at, and we're going to get you some help," was the response. "O.K.?"

Said Swaim: "I don't have no strength to get to the bank."

When the emergency call went out, rescue teams from six Harnett County departments headed for the Cape Fear River.

The highway patrol helicopter spotted a shirtless Swaim in the tree, and Sky Five was overhead as Erwin firefighters plucked Swaim, of Dunn, from his precarious position.

Firefighter Sam Herring was in the rescue boat.

"He was actually calm to be hanging on," Herring said of Swaim. "I don't know how long he had ben in the river, but he was real calm, and he said his buddy was right across the river next to the shore with his dog, and he was wanting to get the dog in the boat as well."

Rescuers then braved the rapids to pick up Chris Cunningham of Raleigh and Swaim's black Labrador, Cap.

Up river, the canoes at Cape Fear RV and Canoe Center are grounded when the water rises to 3-1/2 feet above normal. At the time of the rescue, it was running at close to nine feet higher.

"With the amount of water moving along, it's just going to put an intense amount of pressure on the boat and possibly the person if they fall in the water," said Wells Gardner, of Cape Fear RV and Canoe Center.

Authorities said one of the men cut his head on a rock, but everyone should be OK. Harnett County leaders say they are still looking at the case to determine if the men should pay for the rescue operation.