Officer braves cold river to rescue bridge jumper

Posted April 11, 2011, at 6:19 p.m.
Last modified April 12, 2011, at 1:54 p.m.
Emergency crews transport a woman who was pulled from the Penobscot River on the Bangor Waterfront after allegedly jumping from the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge around 5:30 pm on Monday.
Emergency crews transport a woman who was pulled from the Penobscot River on the Bangor Waterfront after allegedly jumping from the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge around 5:30 pm on Monday.

BANGOR, Maine — Officer Rob Angelo didn’t have time to think about the temperature of the water before he shed his Kevlar vest and utility belt and waded into the Penobscot River early Monday evening.

Moments earlier, a woman had jumped from the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge, which looms 40 feet above. She was in the middle of the river, flailing, asking for help.

The icy water hit Angelo instantly as he paddled toward the woman. He grabbed her, asked her if she could swim. She said she couldn’t.

So the officer slowly and carefully kept the 44-year-old woman’s head above water as he guided her to safety. When he got out of the river, the chill finally kicked in.

“I think I was working on adrenaline for a couple minutes,” he said later, after the woman was taken to a local hospital and after Angelo had changed into dry clothes. “I don’t know how she lasted. That water was as cold as it gets.”

Multiple 911 calls came in to police around 5:30 p.m. alerting them that someone had jumped from the middle of three bridges that span the Penobscot River connecting Bangor with Brewer.

Angelo was the closest officer, patrolling on nearby Main Street, and arrived first. He spoke to witnesses at the scene on Front Street near the Sea Dog Restaurant.

“There was a guy on shore telling her to swim, but she wasn’t really moving,” the officer said. “I think I lost six buttons on my shirt trying to get my vest off.”

Angelo estimated the woman was about 20 feet from shore but the swim from water to land likely felt longer as the coldness stung his extremities.

Sgt. Chip Hodges, who went to the scene shortly after Angelo went into the river, said the woman was lucky the current wasn’t strong at that hour; Angelo may not have had time to rescue her.

The woman, who was not identified, was relatively calm and lucid during the rescue. “The only thing she said was, ‘Sorry I scared you,’” Angelo said.

She was taken immediately to Eastern Maine Medical Center for treatment and a psychiatric evaluation, according to Hodges. Police found a small purse, a book and crutches on the bridge’s sidewalk near where the woman jumped but nothing to indicate why she did it.

The Joshua Chamberlain Bridge has been a popular spot for attempted suicides over the years. In fact, Angelo was involved in a dramatic incident more than a year ago in which he pulled to safety a woman who was threatening to jump from the same bridge.

Like before, Angelo was in the right place at the right time.

About a half-hour after his heroics Monday, he was back at the station ready to resume his shift.

CORRECTION:

A photo caption in an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the woman rescued after the incident as a man.

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