Kayaker rescue

Members of the Billings Fire Department survey the Yellowstone River from the South Billings Boulevard bridge near Riverfront Park after a Saturday evening call to rescue two kayakers from the Yellowstone River. One kayaker was able to make it to shore, but the other was stranded in a logjam before being rescued via National Guard helicopter early Sunday morning. 

REBECCA NOBLE, Gazette Staff

A Montana Army National Guard helicopter crew rescued a woman who was stranded on the Yellowstone River for hours after her kayak capsized on Saturday.

At about 9:10 p.m., the  Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office received a report of two women, both about 30 years old, in need of rescue, said a news release from Sheriff Mike Linder.

The women had started kayaking in Laurel and capsized near the Duck Creek bridge. One had made it to shore but the other was stuck on a logjam in the middle of the river near Oscar's Dreamland. 

The release said emergency responders determined it was too dark to launch the sheriff's office rescue boat. The stranded woman was briefly communicated with via cellphone but for some reason lost that ability. 

Kayaker rescue

A member of the Billings Fire Department survey the Yellowstone River from the South Billings Boulevard bridge during a rescue operation for kayakers on the river Saturday night.

Sheriff's Office Sgt. Ryan Taylor said Saturday that a chief concern that persuaded them not to launch the boat was the amount of large debris in the river. 

"There's cottonwoods that are floating down," Taylor said. "Forty, fifty, sixty-foot cottonwoods. If it hits the boat you're done" and then the rescuers need to be rescued, Taylor said.

A rescue from the south of the kayaker's position wasn't possible because of access issues due to a cliff face and back channels, Taylor said.

Ultimately it was decided that the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office would launch their boat at daybreak and get the kayaker on the logjam, Taylor said. 

Help Flight responded to get a visual update on the woman's status. However the helicopter crew determined they would not be able to safely extract the woman. Rescuers decided to wait until daylight to continue their efforts.

According to the release, a Help Flight pilot had ties to the National Guard and was aware of some helicopter training taking place in the Billings area. After contact was made, a National Guard helicopter "equipped for nighttime operations" responded to the scene of the river rescue.

The helicopter was able to rescue the woman at about 2:30 a.m. Both kayakers received medical attention but the extent of their injuries was not known to Linder on Sunday afternoon.

It was the second time in two weeks that a rescue effort was called for on the river, which, due to high snowpack runoff, reached 11.5 feet. The temperature in the river was estimated to be about 46 degrees, said Nikolai Reimer of the National Weather Service in Billings.


General assignment reporter for the Billings Gazette.