Lifestyle & Human Interest

Hero Game Warden Risks Life to Save Drowning Man from Vortex: 'He Was Dead'


Riley Willman has been a game warden in Delaware County, Oklahoma, for three years. Last month, though, he also became a hero thanks to following his instincts and his willingness to put his life on the line for another.

As Willman was driving on May 11, he passed the Flint Creek Waterpark and decided to stop and check for “angler compliance,” according to a Facebook post by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

It had rained heavily recently, making the creek full and increasing the water level in the area.

After parking and exiting his vehicle, Willman heard screaming coming from the opposite bank.

“I heard them screaming, ‘Help, police, call 911! Someone’s drowning!’ … And I saw that they were pointing to this low-water dam,” he said, according to the ODWC’s post.

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Willman immediately jumped into the water and swam to the low-water area below the dam. A man nearby indicated that his friend, who’d been swimming, had been pulled underwater and hadn’t been seen for several minutes.

Cautiously skirting the vortex, the warden searched the area, but there was no sign of the man. With each passing moment, the situation became even more dire.

But as he waited and watched, he suddenly spotted a body rising to the surface of the water.

“Luckily, he popped up at the right time where I could grab him,” Willman said, according to KFOR-TV. “When you get sucked into a vortex, it’s kind of like a spin cycle in a washing machine. It kicked him out at just the right moment.”

And when it did, the game warden was ready to catch him. After dragging the man to shore, he began CPR — but the man’s lips were blue and he had no pulse.

Despite the discouraging condition of the man, Willman continued rendering CPR — and got a pulse. The man was taken to a hospital in Siloam Springs, just across the Arkansas border, and was doing well enough that he was released the next day.

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It was surprising even to Willman that the result was so positive.

“He was dead, which is the crazy thing to me,” the warden said. “We will always try to render aid, even when things don’t look good. You just fall back on your training, and adrenaline takes over. You don’t really have time to think.”

While Willman has denied being a hero, everyone else involved is certain he deserves the title.

“We would like to thank Warden Willman for his actions, even though he has brushed aside being labeled a hero in this situation,” the ODWC said in its post.

“Game wardens are public servants sworn to protect wildlife and the public’s interests in the outdoors, and Willman has demonstrated just that.”

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