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Sheriff’s helicopter rescues family, nun trapped on Russian River

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A nun in her full‑length habit and veil jumped into the Russian River on Tuesday to help a family stuck in brush and fast-moving water during a river float trip, but ultimately all needed to be rescued by helicopter, authorities said.

The Fremont family — parents and two boys, 8 and 10 — had been floating down the river in what appeared to be a kayak or rubber raft and tubes when one apparently overturned near Vacation Beach, west of Guerneville.

The mishap happened mid‑river, near a submerged island with brush sticking out above the water line. The parents were able to stand in the water while the children, in tubes, clung to bushes against the strong current for about two hours before they were saved.

“There were two adults and two children. No life jackets. Don’t people wear life jackets anymore?” said Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, one of six firefighters responding to the rescue.

Three nuns from Turlock appeared on the shoreline during the ordeal and tried to help. One nun went into the river, attempting to reach the family, but the current was too strong and she stopped, grasping at brush to keep from getting swept downriver.

“She was holding on for dear life. Her head was just above water,” Sonoma County sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum said.

A second nun, who identified herself as Sister Mary, called 911 at about 5:40 p.m. seeking help for three adults and two children stuck in the Russian River. Monte Rio and Russian River firefighters and the Sonoma County sheriff’s helicopter crew responded.

A firefighter with a rope walked out to the family in mostly waist‑high water but realized the current would make it difficult to pull them back across the river. The helicopter was a faster, easier solution, Baxman said.

The sheriff’s crew hooked up the 100‑foot rescue line and one by one, lifted each person to safety. Firefighters wrapped the shivering boys in blankets and checked all five for injuries. All were released and were able to go on their way.

Afterward, the nun said “‘I thought I could swim better than that,’” said Baxman.

The veteran fire chief called it a good ending to a potentially deadly call with an unusual twist — responders hadn’t expected to pull a nun in full religious garb from the river. But the rescue served as a cautionary reminder for anyone floating or boating on the Russian River in springtime, when the river is cold and moving fast.

“If it hadn’t been for (the bushes) they’d have gone way down the river,” Baxman said. “We just have to stress to people, enjoy the river, but please wear a life jacket.”

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rossmannreport.

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