Four Junction firefighters set off in an inflatable boat in an attempt to rescue an El Paso man from the San Saba River on Friday, September 7th. Their boat was struck by debris and partially deflated sending three of them into the water. Fortunately, all four of them, and the man they rescued, made it onto an island where they were picked up by a line from a DPS helicopter and ferried to the north river bank.  --  | COURTESY PHOTO
Four Junction firefighters set off in an inflatable boat in an attempt to rescue an El Paso man from the San Saba River on Friday, September 7th. Their boat was struck by debris and partially deflated sending three of them into the water. Fortunately, all four of them, and the man they rescued, made it onto an island where they were picked up by a line from a DPS helicopter and ferried to the north river bank. -- | COURTESY PHOTO

Luis Davila, Jr., 26, and his wife Natalie Davila, 26, were rescued from the San Saba River early Friday, September 7th, after their car was swept downstream by floodwaters crossing over FM 864 near Fort McKavett.

The Davilas were on the way from El Paso to Fort Hood on Interstate 10 and turned north of FM 864 following a route recommended by their GPS mapping system.

Natalie Davila was driving as her husband slept. She told emergency personnel that she was thrown from the car as it rolled and tumbled in the raging floodwater. She managed to pull herself near the south bank and used her iWatch cell phone to call for help.

Rains had disabled the 9-1-1 system and Davila’s call was automatically transferred to the Schleicher County Sheriff’s Department where the dispatcher tried several times to communicate with the woman as her phone reception came and went.

The frantic woman was finally able to say that she had driven into high water on FM 864 and that she was in the water. Rescue teams had no other information to go on, but several headed toward Fort McKavett anyway, coming from multiple directions.

Luis Davila stayed with the car longer, but managed to escape the vehicle and grab hold of a tree where he stayed as he yelled for help.

Two dogs, enclosed in a pet carrier, were seat-belted in the car and were not found during the rescue. They are believed to have perished in the submerged vehicle.

The Schleicher County Sheriff’s Office received the call from Mrs. Davila at 5:18 a.m. Area law enforcement agencies were notified and Deputy Jason Chatham was dispatched to the scene. He drove ahead of fire crews on FM 2596 and advised them by radio that the draws that were crossing 2596 the night before had receded, allowing all of them to reach FM 864 in Sutton County. They then turned northeast and crossed back into Schleicher County and on to the San Saba River crossing about a half mile northeast of Fort McKavett.

Meanwhile, Sutton County Deputy Marcos Guajardo reached the crossing and immediately set out on foot, heading downstream on the south bank as rescue crews from Menard arrived on the north bank. Guajardo found Natalie Davila and pulled her from the water at a spot about a half mile downstream from the FM 864 crossing.

Guajardo could hear Luis Davila calling for help but couldnot reach him. He then secured a flashlight to a tree with its beam pointing toward the sound of Davila’s voice so other rescuers would know where to search. He then headed back to FM 864 with Mrs. Davila.

Volunteer firefighters from Junction arrived on the south side of the river with an inflatable rescue boat. Four of them including Captain Travis Brown, Captain Sakota Tomlinson, and firefighters Roy Timms and Jamie Rendon, put the boat in the water at FM 864 and attempted to reach Davila by going downstream to him.

Three other Junction firefighters, Chris Rotge, Ricky Stewart, and Jaime Condarco, made their way along the bank to man safety lines as the boat attempted to reach Davila.

Rescue teams on the bank saw quickly, however, that the engine on the small boat wasn’t powerful enough to overcome the rushing current. Then, as the boat struggled, it was struck by debris, which Junction Fire Chief Cecil Conner described as a tree. One of the boat’s inflatable cells quickly deflated and the craft lurched sideways, sending three of the crew into the water. The fourth stayed with the boat, attempting to guide it downstream until it washed up on an island in the middle of the river.

Two of the Junction firefighters managed to make it to the island, too. From there they got a line out to their crew mate who had secured himself to a tree. They also threw a rescue line to Davila and hauled him onto dry ground.

And, that’s where they remained with no one able to reach them.

Schleicher County Deputy Jason Chatham and Eldorado volunteer firefighter T.J. Rodriguez then followed the path Guajardo had made and attempted to reach the four along the river’s south bank. Their way was blocked by a flooded channel and a high game fence.

Rodriguez noted that the fence was covered with spiders that had apparently scrambled up to avoid the flood waters. He and Chatham scaled the fence anyway and used it as a bridge to cross the channel.
Guajardo returned to assist Chatham and Rodriguez. He chose to wade across the chest-deep channel and the three men proceeded to a point on the south bank near where Davila and the four Junction firefighters were stranded on the island, about 50 yards out in the middle of the stream.

Rodriguez said it was too far to throw a line out to the men with too many trees blocking the way. Any attempt to reach them from the south bank would likely have resulted in more people in the water, Chatham said.

The situation was about the same on the north bank. The men were on dry ground but stranded on an island in the middle of the river. Any attempt to reach them before the water receded would have to come another way.

By then, an army of help had arrived. A Texas Game Warden boat was on scene but rescuers chose not to put it in the water after a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter arrived overhead.

The helicopter dropped a line down to the island and lifted the men, one at a time, to the north bank of the river. From there, the men made their way through a field back to FM 864. When the water receded enough, Davila and the four Junction firefighters walked across the bridge where Luis and Natalie Davila were reunited.

For his part, Sutton County Deputy Marcos Guajardo, who rescued Natalie Davila, said he was happy to see all four members of the swift water rescue team come across and the wife and husband reunited. It was an example of several agencies coming together to help each other with a difficult situation.

“The best part was that no one was seriously injured or killed,” Guajardo said.

Shortly after the rescue, rain began falling again and by Saturday morning the San Saba was raging again and running several feet deep over FM 864.

Fort McKavett Fire Chief Terry Mazac reported finding the Davila’s Dodge sedan in the river, a few hundred yards downstream from FM 864. He said the vehicle was upside down and partially submerged.

Deputy Guajardo says that signs were placed on south end of FM 864 the night before indicating that the road was closed.

A partial list of those involved in the rescue includes:

Eldorado - Deputy Sheriff Jason Chatham, Assistant Fire Chief T.J. Rodriguez and Firefighters Michael Jenkins and Esubio Esquivel, Jared Bloom, DPS Trooper Jacob Gamez, and Game Warden Chris Frey;

Sonora - Deputy Sheriff Marcos Guajardo;

Fort McKavett - Fire Chief Terry Mazac, Assistant Chief Byron Ratliff and Firefighter Paul Garcia;

Menard - Sheriff Buck Miller, Deputy Connie Baker, Deputy Paul Ruff, Fire Chief Tyler Wagner, Firefighters Beau Tipton, Jeff Whitson, Kevin Malcolm and Tank Hernandez, Menard EMS - Dan Wright, Xio Wagner, DPS Troopers Josh Hernandez, Trey Davis and David Recio, and Game Warden John Compton;

Junction - Fire Chief Cecil Conner, Assistant Chief Adrian Condarco, Captain Travis Brown, Captain Sakota Tomlinson, and Firefighters Roy Timms, Jamie Rendon, Chris Rotge, Ricky Stewart, and Jaime Condarco.