Woman Swims Across Mississippi River At New Orleans

With the Mississippi River stuck on high, mariners in the New Orleans area have been on high alert since November. The river has put a strain on engines, tow lines, anchor chains and the men and women who move ships and commerce day in and day out.

Mariners anywhere on the nation’s inland waterways have to be ready to respond to any emergency, but conditions on this bend of the river in the Crescent City can be especially unpredictable. That proved true once again when Vessel Traffic Service Lower Mississippi River  (VTS) officials sent out an “urgent marine information broadcast” June 9 shortly before 2 p.m.

The emergency: A woman had jumped in the river from the bank near the Audubon Aquarium and was attempting to swim to the West Bank.

The first vessel to respond was the mv. Connie Z, part of Zito’s Octopus Towing fleet. Capt. Clark Roddy, captain aboard the Connie Z, said he’s been working that stretch of river aboard the Connie Z for close to 11 years and that his vessel is often the first to respond when someone jumps in the river.

“Whenever anything’s going down, Traffic usually calls us, because we’re the closest boat that can get out there real quick before the rescue boats can get out there,” Roddy said.

By the time the Connie Z made it to the woman June 9, the current had already carried her near the Governor Nicholls Street Wharf, on the lower end of the French Quarter, still nearer to the East Bank.

“We tried to throw a life ring a few times, but she kept refusing it,” Roddy said.

When the woman refused help, Roddy moved the Connie Z back to a safe distance and tracked her as she swam toward the West Bank.

“My main thing was to make sure she got to the bank,” he said. “That was our main objective, and if she did go down, to be able to grab her.”

The Steamboat Natchez, also in the area, launched a skiff to offer aid. The woman was in the middle of the river by the time the skiff from the Natchez arrived.

Lance Thompson, a crew member aboard the Natchez, was on the skiff and also offered the woman a life ring.

“Three times she said she wanted to finish,” Thompson said.

A video posted to social media depicted Thompson and others from the Natchez following the woman as she neared the West Bank, well down river from Algiers Point and really struggling. By then, she was in the calmer water of the eddy that runs along the West Bank below Algiers Point.

“She got caught in the eddy, which was shoving her to the bank,” Thompson said. “She was having a very hard time staying above the water and swimming.”

On the video, Roddy’s voice can be heard encouraging the woman to keep swimming and assuring her that the crew members were there to render aid. Thompson said, had it not been for the eddy below Algiers Point, the woman wouldn’t have made it.

“She was having a very hard time staying above the water and swimming,” Thompson said. “Once she got to the levee she was exhausted.”

Roddy said he was amazed she made it across the river—especially with it at such a high stage.

“She had some stamina,” he said. “It looked like she was in good shape. She made it over there about a half mile below the Point, and she got up and walked up the levee like nothing happened. She laid down on top of the levee like she was sunbathing.”

Roddy is a 40-year veteran of the industry, with 27 years in the wheelhouse. He said, after more than a decade working aboard a fleet boat just across from the French Quarter, he’s seen it all.

“One guy that jumped off, he was still alive when we put him on the boat, but he died on the boat,” he said. “We had one lady who jumped, but she was dead already. We had one guy who jumped off the Algiers Ferry. We pulled him up and he was still alive. They just brought him to jail.

“The stuff you see right here—you’ve got the craziest people,” he said.

Roddy said he and his crew are constantly watching and listening, always ready to respond whether someone accidentally goes overboard or jumps in the river intentionally.

“We’re basically first responders—that’s part of the thing,” he said. “I say, if something happens to you, I want you to be able to go to your parents, to your mama or daddy.

“Because it’s tough when you can’t find the body,” he added.

According to Roddy, the woman’s family took her to an area hospital where she received medical treatment.

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