He could see it as if in slow motion, someone else's child being swept over rapids just yards downstream.
On that quiet April 14 evening, Steve Rogge knew there was only one choice — jump in.
“It was just that one moment that conditions were just right,” he said. “The water is a lot colder than it looks, and there's a big hole right there. The water was over my head, and there are boulders underneath. I remember sitting with my wife. This kid started getting closer to the rapids.”
The Rogge family had gone out for some relaxation and fun by the Animas River just upstream from the All Veterans' Memorial Park. The river narrows abruptly in that section. Rapids cascade down into a deep churning pool before the river widens again. It is a span of no more than 30 yards.
“When he hit the pool, he just started flailing,” Rogge said. “It was just as I turned around. He was being sucked under. He went down, and he wasn't coming back up.”
Rogge reached for the boy's leg. He missed.
He reached a second time, and the boy was still inches beyond his reach.
“He was flailing, barely,” Rogge said. “Then I grabbed his leg.”
His wife, Diana Rogge, recalled the incident from a different vantage point.
“He pulled (the boy) up out of the water,” she said. “It looked like (Steve) was holding a bag of potatoes. The look of terror on that kid's face ... he couldn't stand.”
Steve Rogge said that he never found out the boy's name. The boy's family ran down the riverbank once he was ashore.
The boy coughed up water and suffered some bruises but was otherwise uninjured, said Steve Rogge.
Although the April 14 incident ended happily, the Rogges said that people just don't know how dangerous the river can be.
“There were several people out here, families,” said Steve Rogge. “I think the message needs to get out. This is also the time when this water can be very deceptive. It's the times of year where we get lulled into a false sense of security. The water was moving fast, and it was cold. I couldn't stop. I had to put my feet out and bounce along the bottom. I picked his head up out of the water. By all means, come by the river, but always keep that in the back of your head.”
City officials agree.
“Spring runoff is no time to be playing in or around a river,” said Mayor Tommy Roberts in a Wednesday phone interview. “Parents need to be cautious. The river is going to be rising much higher and flowing faster in the next month or so.”
Roberts suggested that those interested in rafting or other river activities participate in Riverfest, held May 24 to 26 at Berg Park and Animas River Park in Farmington.
“I've never had a bad experience around the water, but I know enough people that have drowned,” Roberts said. “I can recall at least two occasions (growing up) where classmates drowned.”
Councilwoman Mary Fischer echoed Roberts' comments.
“Springtime is always a dangerous time in the river,” she said in a Wednesday phone interview. “It's really not for the novice. Those currents are deceptive, and people can get trapped before they realize that they're in trouble.”
Jeremy Dugan, an engineer with the Farmington Fire Department, has been involved in swiftwater river rescues.
“This time of year, conditions are unpredictable,” Dugan said. “It changes from day to day. It's extremely cold, and there's a fair amount of debris in the water. They've got an 85 degree day, and they don't understand that the water was snow less then 24 hours ago. It's moving fast so it doesn't get that far above freezing.”
In those conditions, hypothermia can rob the body of its strength in mere minutes, he said.
The area upstream from the All Veterans' Memorial Park can be a particular problem, Dugan said.
“In July and August when the water is low, it's relatively benign,” he said. “People don't understand that it changes. Education is the most important thing.”
Dugan suggested that residents check water flow rates on the U.S. Geological Survey's website at http://waterwatch.usgs.gov.
The site has an interactive map where anyone can get real time water flow rates in cubic feet per second.
A flow rate of about 200 cubic feet per second is relatively safe, Dugan said. A rate of 2,000 cubic feet per second can be deadly.
The gauge on the Animas River in Farmington registered a rate of 1,460 cubic feet per second on Wednesday.
Although water levels and flow rates fall dramatically by July, snowpack levels vary from year to year, Dugan said.
“A few years ago, we had a record snowpack,” he said. “We had at least a dozen different rescue calls because of the snow melt into July. Gear in the river is essential. A life jacket is so critical. It's almost like biking without a helmet.”
Greg Yee can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @GYeeDT.