SHAWNEE, Okla. (KFOR) – After a man became lost while floating along a Shawnee river, the KFOR Chopper 4 news crew spotted him and was able to pull him to safety as they waited for authorities to arrive.
KFOR Chopper 4 pilot Mason Dunn and photojournalist Steve Johnson were out covering breaking news when they learned about the ongoing search. They traveled along the river and saw David Stokes, a shirtless 34-year-old amputee swimming in the water, struggling and waving to the chopper.
“I heard you. I was hoping you heard or saw me,” Stokes told Johnson after the rescue. “I’m glad you did.”
He said he was almost completely exhausted.
Stokes and some friends had begun floating down the North Canadian River at about noon on Wednesday, his friends in kayaks and Stokes in a raft.
“Their kayaks went on and I was in a raft, and my raft exploded,” Stokes said.
With no raft and only one leg, he couldn’t keep up and got lost around 6 p.m. Wednesday.
His friends called the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office, and deputies, along with Absentee Shawnee Tribal Police and Pottawotomie County Emergency Management crews, searched everywhere they could reach throughout the night and into the morning. They called in Shawnee Fire Search and Rescue to cruise along the river, but still no luck.
“We were on 4-wheelers, we had two drones up still trying to locate him,” said Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth. “We contacted OHP, they were on their way with air boats to be able to get to places that we couldn’t access.”
The KFOR Chopper 4 crew headed over to help with the search, and began flying above the path of the river, searching.
When they saw him, he was clinging to a branch.
“That branch I grabbed a hold of, it broke. That was it. That was it,” Stokes said. “Without your helicopter, knowing that you guys were landing, wasn’t swimming to the bank, you know what I mean? That was everything I had left in me, to get to the bank, so without that, I would have been in those trees probably, you all wouldn’t have found me.”
Dunn made the risky decision to land on the sand bank after a previous landing spot didn’t have access to the river.
“As soon as it was safe to, I ran out of the chopper, dragged him up to the shoreline,” Johnson said.
Johnson waited with Stokes while Dunn went to pick up detective Steven Sample with the Sheriff’s Office to bring him back to the rescue spot.
Soon after, Mediflight arrived and rushed Stokes to the hospital to be treated for possible sunburn, dehydration and exhaustion.
“My arms are just…they’re on fire now,” Stokes said. “They were really on fire whenever you pulled me out of the water.”
Stokes said he was focused on staying alive.
“Keep my head above the water, and that was it. It was hard sometimes,” he said. “I was almost done.”