‘We risked a lot’: Rescuer details hourlong search for 12-year-old in Provo River

Jun 9, 2024, 10:11 PM | Updated: Jun 10, 2024, 7:31 pm

OREM One of the first responders involved in the search and rescue operation for a 12-year-old Arizona boy who fell into the Provo Saturday recounted some struggles rescuers encountered. 

Provo Fire Department Battalion Chief Jason Branson said the child died at the hospital after he was pulled from the water and was unconscious.  

“One of our ambulance crews on scene started resuscitation efforts,” he said. “They continued those to the hospital, they continued at the hospital for quite a while and then they ceased efforts after about an hour or so.” 

Branson said first responders from several agencies including Utah County Sheriff’s Office, Orem Fire, North Fork Fire and the Utah County Special Response Team set up along the banks, many of them jumping in to try and save the child. The Utah County Sheriff’s Office said the Utah County Sheriff Search and RescueAmerican Fork Fire & RescueSaratoga Springs Fire & Rescue and Pleasant Grove City Fire Department were on scene.  

Rescue spots

“We had multiple callers, a lot of different information coming in, but we were able to identify where the child was at coming down the river,” Branson said. “From there, we were able to start setting up rescue crews at different points down the river.” 

He said some rescuers wore dry suits and ran up and down the banks preparing to dive in. Some rescuers were tethered to shore by ropes. Others were designated spotters on bridges and other vantage points up and down the Provo River. 

“The victim was actually underneath the water, not floating on the surface,” Branson said. 

One of the first responders involved in the search and rescue operation for a 12-year-old Arizona boy who fell into the Provo Saturday recounted some struggles rescuers encountered.  (Shelby Lofton, KSL TV)

He said at Canyon View Park, a spotter on the bridge thought he saw the child and alerted a rescuer. 

“They made entry without ever being able to see the victim, attempted to swim down the river, swam down the river for quite a ways, was unable to identify the victim location,” Branson said. 

“That rescuer did a phenomenal job of getting back to shore and trying something that was very dangerous.” 

He said it was one of at least three to four unsuccessful rescue attempts. 

“Yesterday, we risked a lot, and unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t what we wanted or expected,” Branson said. 

The river running wild

The river water is running unusually fast. 

“Almost 2,000 cubic feet per second,” Branson said. “Normally, it’s anywhere between three and 500 cubic feet per second.” 

Branson said other bystanders were jumping in the water, complicating their search. 

“It’s a natural human reaction, especially if you have any kind of relationship to the victim,” he said. “But more often than not, especially when the river is this high, it ends up to just more either casualties or injuries.” 

Provo Fire Department Battalion Chief Jason Branson other bystanders were jumping in the water, complicating their search. (Shelby Lofton, KSL TV)

He said, at one point, alongside Canyon View Park, a rescuer was put into a dangerous position. 

“We had a person jump in right up there that almost went down the falls,” Branson said. “That person almost became the victim as well.” 

He said fortunately they were able to swim quickly enough to shore. But he said the risk is too high for civilians to go in right now. 

‘Stay away from the river’

“Stay 40 feet or more away from the river, keep an eye on your kids, keep an eye on your loved ones, keep an eye on your pets,” Branson said. “Just stay away from the river. It’s not worth it at this moment.” 

Fortunately, no other civilian was hurt Saturday. A firefighter holding a rope that tethered a rescuer to shore was injured. 

 “When the victim was rescued at the very end, the swimmer in the water was able to cling on to that person, but the person tethering with the rope burned their hands just from the water pressure,” Branson said. 

Branson said Utah County’s special response team is trained for situations like these, but it doesn’t make the loss any less difficult. 

“We did a critical incident stress debriefing meeting afterward, just to make sure that everything’s talked about, talked through and give them resources just in case they need it, because these incidents be very difficult to process and handle,” he said. 

Officials still have not said what led up to the boy getting into the water. 

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‘We risked a lot’: Rescuer details hourlong search for 12-year-old in Provo River