WILSON, N.C. – Two Combat Engineers from the 151st Engineer Battalion, based in Laurinburg, rescued a nurse who had been stranded clinging to a tree for hours during severe flooding from Hurricane Matthew in the pre-dawn hours outside of Wilson on Oct. 9, 2016.
The nurse did not return home from work and was reported missing, when the North Carolina Emergency Management Central Branch was called to send out a search and rescue team. Capt. Bert Henderson from the Wilson Fire Department and 2nd Lt. Wyatt Koch and Spc. Robert Shook with the NC National Guard where part of a multi-agency rescue team that began to look for the missing nurse early Sunday morning.
“This is what I signed up for, to serve my country and to help people,” Shook said.
Lt. Koch and his team began to drive down a flooded road outside of Wilson, when they heard over the radio that another team could hear a cry for help. Spc. Shook cut the engine off to the team’s Humvee when he heard faint cries of “help!” The three men got on the hood of the Humvee and began to use search lights to look for the person calling out.
Henderson was the first person to spot the flood victim and Shook threw his rescue rope first but it was carried away by the current. Koch threw next, further upstream and it was able to make it to the stranded nurse. They began to pull her in, when she lost her grip still yards away from the rescue team.
Shook jumped into the flood waters after the nurse and quickly retrieved her and began to buddy swim back to the Humvee. The current was too strong to fight so Shook began to tread water until another swift-water rescue boat pulled alongside the pair and pulled them into the boat. Shook placed a thermal blanket on the rescued nurse and the team was able to bring her safely back to dry land.
“I never thought that I would be jumping into flood waters, but my training kicked in,” Shook said, “All I knew was that I had to get to her and save her.”
The team continued to provide aid until paramedics arrived and brought the nurse to Wilson Medical Hospital. The nurse had been in the water for over four hours.
Both Koch and Shook had attended swift-water rescue training for their unit’s annual training event, held at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, in June, 2016.
“The training worked tremendously” Shook said, “I never would have guessed that only a few months later I would be using it to save a life.”
Hurricane Matthew began to impact central and eastern North Carolina with very high winds and torrential rains since Saturday, and for the past three days, the North Carolina National Guard has worked alongside civilian first responders and conducted over 100 flood related land rescues and 25 helicopter rescues.