Four young men were rescued from the North Canadian River near Shawnee early Friday morning after a float trip carried them too far downstream the night before, forcing them to dig a hole in a sandbar to stay warm overnight.

Pottawatomie County Sheriff Kurt Shirey said the group, ages 18, 21 and two 16-year-olds, went to the river in the area of Garrett’s Lake Road and Brangus Road about 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon to swim and float the river on driftwood.


Four young men were rescued from the North Canadian River near Shawnee early Friday morning after a float trip carried them too far downstream the night before, forcing them to dig a hole in a sandbar to stay warm overnight.
Pottawatomie County Sheriff Kurt Shirey said the group, ages 18, 21 and two 16-year-olds, went to the river in the area of Garrett’s Lake Road and Brangus Road about 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon to swim and float the river on driftwood.
They planned to float to the bridge at Econtuchka Road, where a girlfriend was going to pick them up, Shirey said, but they never showed up.
By 9 p.m., family members became alarmed they hadn’t returned home and went to look for them. Their vehicle was parked next to the river; their shoes, clothing and cell phones were near the river bank. Family members called the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office about midnight, Shirey said.
Deputies, tribal officers and emergency crews began a search. They asked for help from the Oklahoma City Police Department helicopter, which is equipped with night vision and sensors that track a person through body heat.
The overnight search revealed nothing. Apparently, Shirey said, the group made it seven miles downstream and realized they weren’t going to make it to their destination because it was getting dark.
“It was difficult for them to navigate,” Shirey said, and they tried to backtrack.
They sought refuge in a sandbar in the middle of the river, the sheriff said. They were getting cold, Shirey said, so they dug a hole by hand in the sandbar and covered themselves with the sand.
The survival tactic worked, but when the helicopter flew over them in the middle of the night, the sensor couldn’t pick up their body heat and they weren’t seen, Shirey said.
At daybreak, troopers in an Oklahoma Highway Patrol helicopter responded to the area to fly over the river. The young men were located about 8:17 a.m. on the sandbar about five miles downstream from where they started, Shirey said. The OHP helicopter flew them to safety two at a time, taking them to the command post at Garrett’s Lake and Brangus Road. No injuries were reported in the incident.
The river levels and currents were down at the time. While the river may have been safe to float in those conditions, Shirey said, those floating the river should be in the proper apparatus and wearing a life jacket.
The rescue of this group ended much differently than another search in the same area one year ago.
On May 8, 2007, Meeker resident Wesley Davis and two other men took a Jon boat onto the river near Econtuchka Road following days of heavy rainfall. The current was swift and the boat capsized, throwing them into the river. Two were rescued, but Davis’ body has never been found.
Davis’ grandmother, Ruby Gatlin, said she and other members of the Davis family knew some of the people involved in this search so they went to the river overnight search. Gatlin said she’s glad they were all found safe.
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Kim Morava may be reached at 214-3962 or kimberly.morava@news-star.com.