Three women were stranded overnight on the banks of the Muskegon River earlier this week after a first-time tubing trip turned into a 20-plus hour ordeal, according to the Muskegon Township Fire Department.
The women, all in their 20s and from Muskegon and Muskegon Heights, set out alone at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Deputy Fire Chief Bob Grabinski said. They were rescued by fire officials around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“They went and bought some tubes and they went to the Maple Island Bridge, which is one of the access points to the river, a popular spot,” Grabinski said Thursday. “They were misinformed: Somebody said (the river) makes a big loop and they’d come right back to their car.”
Grabinski said the women did not know the individual who offered the faulty advice, and no one has come forward to claim credit. The women were unfamiliar with the river and had never gone tubing.
“They thought it was great,” Grabinski said of the alleged circular river. “They believed it.”
The group set out on what was expected to be a quick and easy trip.
“Right about dark they realized that that was not the case and so they got off the river onto the bank, screaming for help,” Grabinski said. “It was an isolated area. Unless somebody else is coming down the river, nobody’s going to hear them.
“I can only imagine how frightened they were,” Grabinski continued. “They had no food, no shelter, and they were in swimsuits.”
They also had no cellphones, Grabinski said. They were rescued by chance more than 20 hours later, about 3 miles downriver from where they launched their tubes.
“Luckily, just before noon (Wednesday) a drift fisherman heard them,” he said. “He had a phone and called 911.”
First responders launched from the Holton-Duck Lake Road ramp about a quarter-mile upriver from the women’s makeshift campsite, Grabinski said. They arrived around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“They were ecstatic that we found them and they were in pretty good spirits,” Grabinski said. “They have several scratches (from trying) to walk through some pricker-type bushes, and lots of bug bites.”
First responders took the women back to their vehicle, Grabinski said. It was determined that their body temperatures were slightly lower than normal and the women were advised to get checked out at a hospital.
They declined transportion by ambulance and officials did not know if they followed up for medical treatment.
Their tubing days are over, according to Grabinski.
“They did say that,” he said. “They said, ‘I will never do this again.’ ”
For those planning on braving area rivers this summer, Grabinski offered several pieces of advice to avoid any impromptu overnight campouts.
“I’d really like people to go with someone who is familiar with the water and where they’re going so they don’t get into this type of situation,” he said. “Bring some food, bring a hat.”
Grabinski also suggested tubers bring cellphones in case of an emergency. Wrap them in plastic bags or purchase an affordable waterproof bag, he said.
“You never know if something’s going to happen,” Grabinski said.
It also is important to bring along more than a few simple snacks. The stranded women had some food at the beginning of their trip, but it was long gone by the time they landed on the bank Tuesday night.
“Although it doesn’t look like a very long distance, you’re traveling slow and you’re going around curves and bends,” he said. “So it’s going to take you longer than you’d really anticipate if you’ve never done this before.”
Perhaps most importantly, Grabinski urged adventurers to give details of their plans to friends or family back home.
“(The stranded women) didn’t let anyone know what they were doing,” he said. “There were no reports of people missing that night.”