The same volatile river conditions that led to a Chicago boy’s drowning frustrated rescuers, who combed the Rock River for more than five hours Monday before recovering his body.
Firefighters in boats found Damiam Folwarkow’s body about 40 feet south of where he was last seen Sunday, fishing from a patch of rocks south of the Oregon dam. The 15-year-old was on a family trip to Oregon Park East, known for its popularity among Chicago-area anglers — and for its unpredictable and often-treacherous conditions.
Divers who searched for hours Sunday struggled to see through debris and murky water, authorities said. Rescuers battled a speedy current that was intensified by water rushing over the nearby dam. The river’s craggy bottom damaged recovery equipment, and deep, hidden holes complicated the search.
Damiam probably struggled against the same unruly conditions wearing waders, a stringer of fish and a mesh bag around his side, Police Chief Darin DeHaan said.
Damiam was 70 feet east of the shore, standing on a patch of submerged rocks. He was trying to swim out to untangle his snagged fishing line but was swept underwater about 1 p.m. Sunday. The river’s powerful current probably pulled the boy under, said Chief Don Heller of the Oregon Fire Protection District. Damiam’s body was submerged in a patch of calm, deep water about 50 feet from the east shore, he said.
He also might have fallen into one of the river’s hidden holes, which are deceptively deep, sometimes extending 30 to 40 feet under water, DeHaan said.
Maybe Damiam was overconfident in his ability to swim, said Jerry Dilworth, who watched recovery efforts from the shore.
"They say no matter how good of a swimmer you are, you can’t fight that current," Dilworth said. "But the more you are familiar with the water, the more your instincts take over, rather than your fears."
The river is also known for whirlpool-like undercurrents strengthened by the nearby dam.
Local fishers know and fear the river’s unpredictable conditions, which change every year with rainfall, erosion, dam blockages and other environmental triggers. But Damiam probably was unaware of the water’s dangers, much like other out-of-towners who frequent the Rock River in Oregon for its crop of catfish and carp, Heller said.
Chicago anglers who are more familiar with the calmness of lakes sometimes aren’t used to the uneven river bottom, Assistant Fire Chief Ken Maxwell said. They sometimes fall victim to the river’s turbulent current, he said. A Chicago-area man, Samir Zukanovic, 29, drowned in the same area in August 2006. He and a cousin were trying to wade to an island about 250 yards from the eastern shore.
"People who are familiar with it around here never chance it," Maxwell said. "People from out of town assume that if it’s knee-deep to waist-deep out to the shore, it’s not much different out to the island. They’re caught by surprise."
A sign warns anglers of the water’s "extremely dangerous" current and "uneven bottom," but Damiam’s Polish-speaking family might not have understood. Translators aided communication among family members and officials at the scene, Heller said. Authorities are considering adding signage in Polish, Russian, Spanish and German to explain the threat, DeHaan said.
"Not having that education of the dangers of the river is what’s causing this," DeHaan said. "They don’t know the river, and you have to fear and respect the unknown."
Staff writer Sadie Gurman can be reached at 815-987-1389 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.