BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
NAUVOO – A Montrose woman is looking for answers as a result of being stranded in a 15-foot john boat in the backwaters of the Mississippi River for close to six hours on May 18 and 19th.
Becky Bennett was out on the river with her dog on the Illinois side of the channel when her boat became disabled due to a dead battery at around 6 p.m. on Thursday the 18th. Her cellphone battery was also dead and she had no food or water on the boat, which was about 150-200 feet off shore. She was not pulled onto shore until around 2 a.m. Friday morning.
Bennett said she tried swimming to the Illinois shore but then began to become frightened of the situation and turned back to the boat and her dog.
“I got a 1/4 of the way to land and then got scared. I was in the main channel when my battery went dead and we floated over to the backwaters,” she said.
“I saw some civilians on the Illinois side and I’m assuming they’re the one’s that called it in. I would say probably sometime between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.,” she said.
According to Hancock County Chief Deputy Scott Cowser, the call log shows a call came in just after 8 p.m.
“We received a call about the issue on the 18th at about 8:12 p.m.,” Cowser said. “A Nauvoo police officer may have been in the area and a conservation boat was put in at about 9:35 p.m. According to that call log, the scene was cleared at 2:48 a.m.,” Cowser said.
Bennett agreed with the times, saying she didn’t get home to Montrose until about 3 a.m., a full nine hours after becoming disabled on the river. Bennett is looking for answers as to why it took so long for someone to get to her.
According to several different social media postings, which were following the incident, many people were standing by to help, but no official page or direction came to launch a rescue from the Iowa side. Bennett also said she was told by many that Iowa was on standby prior to dark to lend assistance, but were not cleared to go.
“I don’t care what the situation is, you don’t just leave somebody on the river like that,” she said.
Cowser said Hancock County Sheriff’s dispatch has to notify the Illinois State Police, which in turn dispatches Illinois Conservation Police officers since they fall under the direction of the ISP.
According to IDNR public information officer Ed Cross, ISP received notification of the incident at 9:15 p.m.
That call would have been a full hour after Hancock County had been notified of the situation.
“At 9:18 we messaged one of our conservation police officers, Karl Wheatley, and officer Wheatley began making his way to the river at 9:30. Wheatley said his boat was in Hamilton and had to go there to hook up the boat and haul it to the old Nauvoo ferry landing to put it in.
Wheatley said he couldn’t comment on the incident because it was an open investigation, but did say he called Hancock County to have a deputy on scene to assist him with the rescue.
“I can’t really say a whole lot, it’s an open case. I was helping a Hancock County deputy. The two of us went out in my boat and found her and towed her out of where she was. She’s home..she’s safe and I did my job,” Wheatley said. “All the boating accidents that have happened here recently, I was involved in all those rescue attempts. In terms of that – this was a very, very easy thing.”
He said he was in the coast guard for five years and has done a lot of towing.
I have five years in the Coast Guard,” he said. “I’ve towed NOAA buoys in the Bering Sea. I know how to tow. It might have taken a while, but there were a lot of things that contributed to it that aren’t on Facebook.”
Cross said Wheatley put his boat in sometime between 10 and 10:30 p.m. and had trouble getting to the boat because of the mud/water mixture and said at one point Wheatley had to put on chest waders and walk to the boat through the muddy conditions to hook up a tow rope. The rope snapped at one point and had to be reattached.
In the meantime, Montrose police, Montrose Fire & Rescue, and Lee County Ambulance were monitoring the situation from the Iowa side. Charles Biddenstadt, asst. chief of the Keokuk Emergency Volunteer Corp, said when he got to the scene with the boat at about 10 p.m. after being dispatched by LeeComm E911 services, he called Hancock County to see if they needed an assist.
“Montrose had us paged to stand by in case we was needed. I called Hancock County dispatch when I got there and I asked the dispatcher if they needed us for assistance and he radioed the deputy that was out there and the deputy radioed back and said they was alright.”
Cowser and Cross said no one in their respective departments would have told Iowa rescue personnel to stand down.
“We would never do that,” Cross said.
Wheatley said he never had anyone ask him about anyone on the Iowa side being ready to come get Bennett.
Bennett said her parents received a call from Hancock County at about 10:15 and told her parents they had her on land. She said her parents went over to check on her and then realized that she wasn’t yet on land.
She said when she got on shore on the Illinois side there were no medical personnel on the scene and Wheatley began investigating the boat. He then issued citations for Bennett not having a fire extinguisher or a Type 4 personal flotation device.
Calls to Montrose Police and LeeComm to verify times of dispatch went unreturned today.