Right place, right time

Published 12:10 pm Thursday, October 13, 2016

AULANDER – A pair of Town of Aulander employees are being hailed as heroes by their supervisor and town officials.

Late Saturday night, the two young men, Ben Draper and Austin Hurdle, risked their lives to pull a man from a submerged vehicle on Hwy. 11.

Aulander Public Works Director Steven Draper said, “I’m very proud of these two men. They do a great job for the people of Aulander every day and this was an instance of extraordinary bravery and dedication to their fellow man.”

Ben Draper and Hurdle pretty much worked all weekend to take care of the town’s residents and keep the town running. They also serve on the town’s volunteer fire department.

Saturday evening they were called to help some people trapped in a mobile home in town who couldn’t get out. Floodwaters surrounding the home were nearly waist deep, so Ben and Austin helped them get safely into town-owned pick-up trucks and took them to an emergency shelter set up at West Bertie Elementary School in Kelford to ride out the storm, which was still raging at the time. They carried four people to the shelter – a family of three, another man, and a dog.

On the return trip to Aulander from the shelter about 11 p.m., Ben and Austin saw a vehicle stopped in the middle of Hwy. 11, which was flooded over the road with a strong current moving southward.

They stopped to see if they could help, but a man standing in the road said there was another vehicle in the canal ditch, which was almost completely submerged.

When the Aulander workers went to the SUV in the canal, a 39-year old man was on his feet in the passenger seat with the vehicle continuing to flood.

The two young men were still on their town pick-up trucks and unprepared for a deep water rescue mission. They called the Aulander VFD for help, but decided they needed to act quickly to rescue the driver, who was terrified as the swift water filled the SUV.

“We couldn’t wait,” Austin said. “We had to get him to safety while we could.”

Ben added, “We couldn’t just watch him drown. We had to do something.”

The water was moving too fast for good footing, so they improvised. The duo grabbed some jumper cables, with Ben providing the “anchor” footing, even though he was standing in swift-running waist-deep water on the shoulder of the road, while Austin inched downward into neck-deep water in the canal ditch to reach the SUV.

The driver grabbed the end of the jumper cables and Bill and Austin managed to get him up and into one of their trucks.

“I thank the good Lord we were able to be there at the right time,” Ben said.

Austin said, “If we had waited, we’d have been too late.”

They both said it took every bit of strength they had to perform the rescue because it was very hard just to stand upright in the swiftly running water.

“They are heroes,” said Steven Draper. “The two employees that saved this man are 20 year old kids. When they arrived back at our fire station, a couple more and myself were kidding them about being heroes, very humbly they said. ‘we were just in the right place at the right time,’ but I’d bet the guy they pulled from the car would probably disagree.”

He added that utilizing the jumper cables to stabilize the rescue operation, “just shows you don’t always have the exact tools you need. You just have to do the best you can with what you have.”

Ben and Austin were both humble in describing what they did to save a life while risking their own lives. They thanked God for putting them at the right place, at the right time, and with what they needed to get the job done. They expressed relief at being able to save a life.

After getting the rescued man into a truck, they him, still crying from both the terror he experienced in the water and the relief he felt to be rescued, to the shelter at West Bertie Elementary School.

They then returned to work, soaking wet near midnight, and in a hurricane, as if it were just another day at the office.