When Christian Woehler heard that a pelican had been stranded for weeks in the middle of the Arkansas River near Pueblo Reservoir, he was quick to offer his help to save it.

Within hours, the Pueblo resident and four other people, including a bird expert who determined the pelican was in dire need of rescue, had gathered their gear and devised a plan to catch the bird.

Then, two weeks ago, Woehler lowered a canoe into the river near the dam and paddled out to save the pelican.

“I tried using a net, but it didn’t work,” Woehler said. “So I ran after him, he tried to fly, and we got into the air together – and landed in the water together.

“It was quite an event – a swan dive to catch a pelican.”

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For all its spectacle and drama, saving the pelican was one of the easiest rescues Woehler has been involved in.

The Pueblo resident served for several years as a rescue swimmer in the U.S. Navy, a little-known but crucial role that involves jumping into boiling oceans or piloting an M60 machine gun to cover other sailors as they ascend to aboard pirates and other vessels to conduct research. and input operations.

“We would very quickly get up the side of fishing boats or pirate ships or any boat that raised suspicion about our vessel, and we would drop this ladder over the side – onto something called a big hook – and then we climb up that little aluminum ladder and get on the boat,” Woehler said.

“Most of the time I didn’t go on board a lot but I would sit at the front of the ship, that’s where they put the lifeguard because if (the other sailors) had a casualty or they were getting shot, they were supposed to jump ship and go in the water,” Woehler said. “That’s when my job became to rescue them when they were falling or cover them with my M60.

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These operations and the rescue of the pelican were relatively tame compared to what Woehler called “probably the craziest rescue I’ve done in the military”, when he and another rescue swimmer rescued the crew of a fishing boat that was drifting on the high seas in the Pacific Ocean.

“We were at sea and received a call from a captain to tell us that a fishing boat had been sucked out to sea, and they had a rope wrapped around their propellers and could not bring their boat back.

“So Curtis, the other lifeguard on the ship, and I got the crew off the boat and got them on our boat and then we decided we were going to try and get their boat back for them. “, did he declare.

A lot of rope had wrapped around the long pole to which the propeller of the fishing boat was attached, immobilizing it.

As the boat rocked the rough seas, Woehler and the other swimmer waited for the propeller to come out of the water, “then we swam under it real quick and grabbed that pole…and cut a little piece of rope. disabled.”

As they clung to the pole, the waves pushed them 15 feet into the water before lifting them 15 feet out of the water as the stern of the ship was forced upwards by the rough seas, recalls Woehler.

“It was like riding a bull,” he said. “It was a really intense and adrenaline-filled rescue. It was great. Everyone got out safe and sound.”

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Pelican is recovering

Everyone, including the bird, made it out safe and sound when the pelican was rescued.

The bird was taken to the nature and wildlife discovery center on the river trail before being sent to a facility with a protected lake that is home to pelicans year-round, said Diana Miller, director from the central raptor center, to The Chieftain.

A pelican with an injured wing sits in the middle of the Arkansas River near Pueblo Dam.  The pelican was rescued in March and taken to a protected lake for pelicans.

The pelican was diagnosed with a previous injury to the wingtip, which did not heal properly, but other than that he was healthy when rescued.

“The bird can fly short distances at low height but will probably never be able to generate enough lift to achieve full flight,” Miller said.

But this does not mean that the pelican will not be able to survive in the wild.

“Pelicans don’t need to fly to pursue prey,” Miller said.

“They actually float on the water and watch for fish and other prey below them in the water. They then push their beaks down to grab. Sometimes they flip over so far that they look like dabbling ducks feeding,” she said.

Karin Zeitvogel can be reached at [email protected], and Zach Hillstrom is at [email protected]