Second Lt. Jody Hintz thought the Civil Air Patrol was just having a nighttime training exercise.
But this was no exercise.
It was a real-life rescue.
At the time, about 25 people — which included eight Civil Air Patrol trainers along with cadets and senior adult members — were at the city’s well fields, roughly 2.3 miles southeast of Fremont.
The group had finished a long day of search and rescue training when a man in a small car approached cadets at dusk on Saturday. The man said he needed to get a boat on the Platte River where his wife was in a paddle boat — and in trouble.
Her cell phone was dying and she was trying to find a place to get out of the river.
“I had (the man) jump in our search and rescue pickup,” said Major Isaac Piper, public information officer for the Nebraska CAP.
Piper, Capt. Laine Carstensen and Lt. Kameron Graham of the CAP were in the truck and headed toward the scene. Along the way, they were joined by Lt. Col. Jim Kuddes of the CAP’s Fremont Cadet Squadron.
Other CAP team members manned radios.
Hintz figured — at first — that the situation was part of a night training mission for the cadets.
“Wow, you hired some awesome actors,” she thought.
She soon realized that wasn’t the case. Lt. Greg Vaughn called 911.
The man continued talking on the phone to his wife, who was sending him her location via an app called Glympse.
“We were able to look at where she was in relation to the well field,” Piper said.
The men drove over a dike and followed a vehicle path by the river.
Realizing the woman was further downstream than the vehicle could go, Kuddes and Piper got out of the truck and started walking along the river.
As they walked, the men spotted a blue light that the woman was flashing.
The men approached and saw the woman standing on her paddle board. She had wedged her paddle into the mud and tied her paddle board to it to keep from going downstream.
She had to hold the paddle so it wouldn’t come out of the mud.
“But if she would have let go of the paddle, she would have slipped downstream,” Piper said.
The woman was having trouble getting off the paddle board and onto the shore.
And the water was moving swiftly and was much deeper than usual.
There was only a hint of light left.
Piper laid on the ground, reached out and grabbed a handle on her paddle board.
“Colonel Kuddes grabbed my ankle so I wouldn’t slip off the shore myself,” Piper said. “She grabbed her stuff and climbed off the paddle board onto shore with Jim Kuddes grabbing her hand and helping pull her up.”
Next, they got her paddle and paddle board and onto the shore.
“If she’d tried to do that without having anything to hang onto or keep her paddle board steady, she probably would have gone further downstream. She was having a hard time finding a good place to get out,” Piper said.
And light was a factor, too.
“By the time we were all on the shore, it was completely dark,” Piper said.
The three then made their way through weeds, grasses and past fallen trees — and an occasional low, wet muddy spot — while fighting off mosquitoes.
“It seemed to take forever, but it probably wasn’t as far as it seemed in the dark,” Piper said.
A CAP ground team had waited for emergency medical personnel to arrive and escorted an EMS vehicle to the scene.
The woman, who was from Omaha, was evaluated, but didn’t want to be transported to a medical facility, according to Fremont Fire Department Capt. Tom Christensen.
A CAP press release said the woman had some exhaustion, dehydration and a significant number of mosquito bites, but was otherwise all right.
The woman’s name was not released.
“We had a lot of support from our team,” Piper said, adding that he talked with team members via a handheld radio. “They were relaying messages back and forth. They were shining their light so we’d know which direction to travel.”
Hintz also said Cadets demonstrated professionalism.
In a prepared statement, Col. Steve Kuddes commended CAP team members involved in the rescue.
“The efforts of the CAP team resulted in removing an individual, who could have gone downstream a significant distance or capsized the paddle board and gone into very fast-moving and deep water in the dark, possibly causing a drowning situation,” Steve Kuddes said. “Outstanding teamwork by all involved resulted in one more individual being able to enjoy life with their family members. Well done CAP.”