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Verona man dives into dangerously cold water to help victims of airboat crash on Ohio River tributary

<i></i><br/>An airboat flipped on a tributary of the Ohio River
Lawrence, Nakia

An airboat flipped on a tributary of the Ohio River

By Brian Hamrick

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    VERONA, Kentucky (WLWT) — An airboat flipped on a tributary of the Ohio River on Thursday, sending three people into the frigid water, but a man who saw it all quickly dove into the danger, too.

Gary Noel, of Verona, has lived along Big South Fork Creek for decades and heard something very unusual.

“I thought it was an airplane or a helicopter coming,” Noel said. “I have never seen an airboat in this creek.”

He ran toward the creek because he knew the boat was headed for a tree that was crossing the creek ahead, but it was too late. The boat tried to do a U-turn and flipped.

“The boat comes over the front, and then it just catapults them forward and throws them off of the boat,” Noel said.

He could see two people in the water who needed help immediately. One of them couldn’t swim, but things got worse.

“And then they said there was another person, but they didn’t know where she was,” Noel said. “It was pretty scary at that point.”

Noel dove into the creek headfirst and quickly realized that the cold would be as big an obstacle as the water.

“It was very cold; very, very cold. Almost take-your-breath-away cold,” Noel said.

The water was 60 degrees, according to the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department.

The National Center for Cold Water Safety said that people routinely die in water that cold. It can take a matter of minutes or even seconds in some cases.

For about half an hour, Noel worked in the cold water.

He helped the man who couldn’t swim to hang on to a portion of the boat near the surface.

Noel couldn’t find the missing woman. He began rocking the boat and suddenly saw her foot.

“When I saw that, I just grabbed ahold and yanked with everything that was in me,” Noel said. “She came right on up out of there, and I started CPR on the boat.”

Rescue crews arrived and Noel continued to swim ropes across the creek, bringing the woman back first, then the two men.

Cliff Loth, 71 and Ralph Mitchell, 69, of Union, survived.

Karen Follis Marz, 61, of Pennsylvania, was transported, but died at the hospital.

Marz’s family visited the scene over the weekend. They left a wreath and memorial brick with the victim’s initials. They said they thought Noel was a hero.

“I don’t think I’m no hero. I just think I’m just a regular person that seen some people in trouble and did what anybody would have did,” Noel said.

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