HELENA – Montana’s rivers and streams can be dangerous this time of year.
One Helena family knows that truth first-hand after their three-year-old grandchild fell in Prickly Pear Creek earlier this month.
Rescue crews credit 3-year-old Montana’s grandfather with helping save her life.
Paul Nevermissashot enjoys hiking along the creek with his family but on June 19, an evening outdoors quickly turned potentially deadly.
“We didn’t really expect the water to be moving swiftly and as fast as it is this time of year,” he told MTN News.
The family was getting ready to go home when they realized Montana had fallen in the creek.
“She was more or less floating on her back, and she was crying out, ‘Papa, papa,’” said Nevermissashot.
He is almost 62 years old and uses a cane to walk long distances. But he moved quickly to find his granddaughter, while his wife called 911.
“I kept on crying out in my own words, ‘God, Creator, you have to intervene, do something for us. This is the point where I need you the most.’”
“I’m just like a turtle, I can’t even move as fast as I did that evening.”
He followed her cries and floated to where Montana had gotten snagged on some logs.
“I probably went under a couple times,” he said. “That water current was pretty swift and strong, and the water came up to my chest.”
He grabbed his grandchild and waited with her in the rushing water.
“I told her we gotta hold on to Papa, hold on to me, help is on the way,” he said.
Rescue crews including Montana Highway Patrol, True North Search Dogs, Elkhorn Search and Rescue and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived quickly.
They found Paul and Montana, formed a line, and brought them both to safety. Afterward, they told MTN News Paul’s quick reaction likely prevented Montana from drowning.
“He followed her down until she got hooked on a log jam, and he should be credited with saving her life as well,” said Dave Kauffman with Elkhorn Search and Rescue.
Nevermissashot credits his faith and the instinct that comes with being a grandfather.
“If it wasn’t for the man upstairs, we would have probably had a different outcome,” he said. “Because God was using me, we’re still here today.”
According to Kauffman, the whole ordeal was over in around 36 minutes.
Paul spent two nights in the hospital afterward to be treated for hypothermia. Montana spent one night in the hospital.
-Evelyn Schultz reporting for MTN News