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Saturday, January 21, 2012

New Ipswich woman rescued after van slips off icy road into Souhegan River in Wilton

WILTON – Lynn Graves was freezing and in pain and in a whole lot of trouble.

She was soaked from head to toe in the Souhegan River’s icy water as it rushed into her white Ford Windstar minivan.

Her spine was twisted, a massive bruise was forming on her arm from the seat belt and hypothermia was on the horizon.

But she wasn’t dead.

That’s thanks to a daring rescue staged by emergency workers from Wilton and Bedford who extracted the 47-year-old New Ipswich woman from her car Thursday night after it hurtled off Route 31 and into the middle of the river. Just a few hours later, Graves was back at home, shaken but safe.

“The story should be about the responders,” Graves said Friday evening. “Those people are heroes, absolute heroes.”

The beginning

Around 10 p.m. Thursday, Graves was on her way home from band practice at River of Life Church in Amherst, where she’s a member of the praise and worship team. She was planning to put some work in on a fiction book she’s writing in her spare time.

Graves said she was taking it slow, driving maybe 30 mph on the 50 mph road because of heavy snow and slick roads. At a dip in the road, an isolated and dark area with no homes nearby, she hit a patch of black ice and lost control of the van.

“It shot me across the road,” Graves said. “I threaded the needle” between two pine trees.

“It launched me off the bank and into the middle of the Souhegan River. Needless to say, it was not fun.”

Given that it was the dead of winter, in the dark, in the middle of a freezing river, Graves’ landing spot couldn’t have been much better.

The van landed on a large rock that stopped it from being swept downstream or rolling over. In all probability, it saved her from drowning.

“When I first hit, my first thought was, ‘How is anybody going to find me down here?’ because it was so dark,” she said.

Shortly after that, Graves remembered a Discovery Channel show about what to do during different emergencies.

She stood up on the brake pedal to get as far above water as she could. The door wouldn’t open because the van’s frame had twisted, but she managed to get the passenger window down.

Thankfully, she forgot to turn the van off, because passers-by spotted her headlights. Graves estimated she was alone in the river for maybe five minutes.

Soon, an off-duty paramedic was in the van with her and stayed there until Graves was rescued.

“She stayed with me and held me,” Graves said. “She kept my head still and talked to me, kept me calm. She was just utterly amazing.”

Eventually, rescuers, including the Bedford Fire Department’s swift-water rescue team, were able to move Graves into the back of the van. From there, they loaded her onto a backboard and then, using ropes, pulled her across the river on a ladder running from the bank to the rear of the van.

Graves said she was in the van for maybe an hour after the accident.

Graves was brought to a hospital, but didn’t even have to stay overnight.

Deserved recognition

Graves said she couldn’t have been more impressed with the men and women who rescued her.

“I was so impressed with how quickly they got me out of there,” she said. “They train so hard, and they’re out there every night putting their lives on the line keeping us safe. They deserve to be recognized for the heroes that they are.”

On Friday, Graves took a trip to the chiropractor, and said her spine was feeling much better. She spent time with her husband, David, and went to the salon, where the last of the glass shards were washed out of her hair. And she called the people she loves.

“You go through a situation like this and your priorities really become clear,” Graves said. “You think about the people in your life. Things can be replaced. Call someone you love and tell them how much they mean to you.

“That’s what I did today. I told the people in my life how much they mean to me.”

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).