March 16, 2010

Fisherman hooks man floating in Kennebec

SUSAN M

— By . COVER

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Andy Molloy HUMAN CATCH: Bob Greene was stunned to see a human floating down the Kennebec River in Hallowell Thursday morning just before dawn. Greene, of Hallowell, retrieved the injured man with his fishing rod and pulled him to shore.

Blethen Maine News Service

HALLOWELL — Bob Greene saved a man's life with his fishing pole early Thursday.

Greene, 42, of Hallowell, said he was drinking a cup of coffee and waiting for the sun to rise over the Kennebec River around 4:30 a.m. when he heard what he thought was a bird making noise in the distance.

He assumed it was a cormorant, and hoped it didn't mean a day of battling birds while he tried to fish for stripers from the dock at the Hallowell boat landing.

''From the first time I heard (the noise) to when I actually got him, I had enough time to drink a large cup of coffee and start reading the paper,'' he said.

He figures about 20 minutes passed. Then he saw what he first thought was a log.

A second later, he realized it was a man bobbing down the river, and heard a faint call of ''help.''

Michael Gibbs, 25, of Augusta, told police that he jumped into the river from the Cushnoc Crossing bridge in Augusta — a 114-foot high span commonly known as the third bridge.

He survived the jump into the water, estimated to be more than 60 degrees, and made his way about a mile down the river before Greene spotted him, according to Hallowell Police Chief Eric Nason.

Greene said his first instinct was to jump in -- he took his wallet out of his pocket just in case -- but after he called 911, a dispatcher told him to throw something in to try to save Gibbs instead.

He set down his cell phone so he could cast his 7-foot spinning rod and Okuma reel with 25-pound line. It landed about 2 feet beyond Gibbs, who Greene estimated was about 35 yards from shore.

The Chug Bug lure -- a 4-inch-long lure with three small hooks on the end -- snagged Gibbs' shirt near his shoulder.

''It was a struggle to get him out of the current so I could reel him in,'' Greene said.

An experienced fisherman who makes fishing rods for a living, Greene said he knew he had to be careful not to snap the line.

''He had a pretty good hook on him and was slowly reeling him in when the officer arrived,'' Nason said.

Just as he got Gibbs near shore, Hallowell police Officer Christopher Hutchings arrived to help pull Gibbs from the water.

Gibbs had a cut on his head, but Nason said he did not know the extent of his injuries. He was able to tell police his first name and told them he jumped from the third bridge in Augusta, according to Hallowell police.

Augusta police found Gibbs' car on the bridge, Augusta police Lt. Kevin Lully said.

A spokeswoman at Maine Medical Center in Portland said Gibbs was in critical condition Thursday afternoon.

Nason said that, by calling the police first and not jumping in the water, Greene did the right thing.

''Everything just had to add up just right,'' he said.

For his part, Greene said he almost chose to fish in Gardiner on Thursday.

''For some reason, I was meant to be here,'' he said.

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