"He just had that stare. I mean, hypothermia had clearly set in. He couldn’t move," said New York Park Police Major Clyde Doty
A man who’d spent hours clinging to a branch in the Niagara River was rescued in dramatic fashion on Thursday, just 75 yards from the brink of the fast-moving falls.
New York State Park Police responded to a report of a 59-year-old man in the river hanging on to a branch around 11:45 a.m., Capt. Chris Rola tells PEOPLE.
The agency called on several other departments for help, including New York State Police, Border Patrol, and the Niagara Falls City Fire Department, which made two rescue attempts.
On the first, the current and location prevented officials from reaching the man. They reached him on the second attempt, but he “broke free,” after fighting with his rescuers, Rola says.
Eventually, State Park Police Maj. Clyde Doty suggested that he and Rola should arrange to have rescuers downstream, so that if the man was pushed that way, he could be intercepted, Rola said.
The pair quickly grabbed ice water suits and headed down between Goat Island and Prospect Point, where Rola tossed a rope to Doty, who managed to grab the man as he floated by.
“As we were heading toward that spot, we had heard the crowd give a gasp, and we kind of stepped it up a little bit,” Doty said in a news conference televised by WKBW. “Then we heard another noise from the crowd, and I saw the individual coming downriver, and I was able to jump in and intercept him.”
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Doty later explained that he had one foot in a crevice and the other on a rock, and that he was squatted down in the water with the man on his legs, with one arm holding his head up.
“I just kept telling him, ‘I got you, I got you,’” he recalled, noting that the man was conscious but not alert. “He just had that stare. I mean, hypothermia had clearly set in. He couldn’t move.”
The ground crew eventually pulled them to shore, and the man was taken by ambulance to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Rola says. He remains in stable condition in the intensive care unit.
His identity has not yet been released, though he is believed to be from the area.
The man was wearing only a light jacket, jeans and thermal underwear, though Doty said his jeans had been pulled halfway off by the current.
He spent about two hours total in the water, which was about 52 or 53 degrees, Rola said.
Authorities are still looking into just how the man ended up in the water.