MURRAY Consistently wiping back tears and at times speaking almost no louder than a whisper, Dean Ririe said today he was happy to be alive and admitted there were many times he didn't think he'd make it.
Ririe, 52, was fishing in Little Cottonwood Creek Sunday when his foot became wedged between a rock and a giant boulder. He was trapped in the cold water for 16 hours before an 11-year-old boy heard his cries for help the next morning and called rescuers who got him out. It took rescue crews about 90 minutes to free Ririe from the boulder and get him to a local hospital.
Today, Ririe was listed in satisfactory condition in ICU at Intermountain Medical Center. His biggest fear is losing his right foot or some toes, which is still a possibility. But mostly, he was just happy to be alive.
"It was life threatening. He could have died from this," said Jody Carter, part of the IMC trauma team treating Ririe.
Ririe's trouble started about 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Little Cottonwood Creek when he got a fish on the line. He was wearing his waders and was stepping over a big boulder onto a smaller one when the smaller boulder gave way. Ririe said he got caught in strong current and was pulled completely under the water. He was pushed up against a large boulder, about the size of a compact vehicle.
After slipping on the small rock, his right foot became pinned between the small rock and the large boulder. He grabbed a couple of pieces of deadwood floating in the creek and tried to pry himself out. But after a couple of hours of attempting to wedge himself out with no success, Ririe knew he needed to preserve his energy and watch his body temperature for the long night that was approaching.
Ririe was near the Tanners Flat camp area and "pretty continuously" called for help, he said. But he knew the possibility of someone hearing him wasn't great.
"I knew the area. I knew how remote I was. I wasn't close enough to the campground with the roar of the water (for anyone to hear)," he said.
The waders Ririe were wearing ripped and filled with water. He put his arms inside his waders in an effort to keep warm. He said he was able to stay propped against the large boulder so the water wasn't quite waist deep.
As the night went on, Ririe knew he wasn't going to fall asleep but he didn't want to pass out.
"I was afraid to fall asleep. I was afraid if I fell asleep I would sink in," he said. "Staying awake was the easy part."
Thoughts of his wife and three young children, and even his parents, kept Ririe going.
Between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. Tuesday, Ririe's wife, Tracey, went looking for him when he didn't return home. She tried Big Cottonwood and East canyons first. By 8 a.m. she went up Little Cottonwood and found her husband's truck. About the same time Search and Rescue crews were called and started heading up the canyon for what they thought was a missing man, 11-year-old Alex Malin, who had spent the night with his family at Tanners Flat, was collecting firewood in the forest when he heard Ririe's cry for help.
"I didn't see the young boy. He saw me," said Ririe, who noted he wasn't even aware until after he was pulled out of the water that the young boy was responsible for saving his life.
When Malin found the man, he said he was shivering and his lips were turning blue. He ran to get his dad who in turn notified the camp host and called the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.
Today, Ririe said he'd like to meet the boy again and tell him 'Thank you.' Tracey Ririe did meet the boy on the mountain as her husband was being rescued.
"I just told him I was thankful. Just really grateful," she said.
Ririe said today from his hospital room that he is still in a lot of pain, mostly from his foot. Carter said the biggest problem was circulation in his right foot which was cut off by the boulder. Doctors were encouraged, however, that some circulation started returning once the boulder was removed. Ririe also sustained a muscle injury to his right calf. He was being treated with fluids and being watched to make sure no other complications arose in his kidneys.
Ririe's body temperature was down 33 degrees when he was brought to the hospital, Carter said. But, he said as of Tuesday, doctors expected a full recovery.
Ririe, an avid fisherman and skier, said he hoped he would get to keep all his limbs. His daughter, however, has already told him he's no longer allowed to go fishing by himself, he said.When asked if the near-death experience changed his life, Ririe said with a small chuckle, "I don't know how it couldn't."