PUEBLO, Colo. – A Memorial Day boating accident at Lake Pueblo State Park has made recent headlines, but there’s far more to this tragic story.
Without the heroics of Colorado Parks and Wildlife Ranger Joe Portteus and Seasonal Ranger Seth Herndon, the tragedy may have been far worse.
“I’m convinced the death toll would have been far higher without the courageous response of Rangers Portteus and Herndon,” said Joe Stadterman, Lake Pueblo Park Manager.
Portteus and Herndon were on duty that Sunday night when the call for help came in. A boat loaded with 13 people– eight children and five adults, had capsized out on the 4,500-acre lake amid howling winds producing dangerous white caps.
Darkness was falling as Portteus and Herndon pointed their patrol boats north and raced across the choppy waters of CPW’s busiest lake. They were met by a chaotic scene as they arrived off the North Shore.
Only the nose of the capsized boat, built to carry a half dozen people, was still visible in the 60-degree water.
Bobbing and flailing before them were 11 victims trying to stay afloat. Children were crying for help as the winds pushed them away from the sinking boat and each other. Some were face-down in the water.
The two rangers attempted to reach Senior Ranger Daryl Seder at the command post on shore, but the winds were blowing so hard their cries for help couldn’t be heard. Nor could they make out any replies from CPW staff on shore.
The pair began pulling victims from the water into their wildly rocking patrol boat.
They saved 11 lives that night. Sadly, a husband and wife drowned in the incident.
“They ignored the danger to themselves posed by the extreme weather and didn’t quit until they had every living soul safely aboard. Then they delivered them to emergency personnel waiting on shore. They are true heroes,” said Stadterman.
Stadterman said Portteus and Herndon are being nominated for CPW live-saving awards while Seder is being nominated for an exceptional service award for managing the incident at the scene.