Two DailyMail.com journalists narrowly escaped with their lives Tuesday as the boat they were traveling on with volunteer rescuers in the churning waters of flooded Houston was electrocuted by submerged power lines.
Senior reporter Alan Butterfield and photojournalist Ruaridh Connellan were swept away into the swollen and fast moving Greens Bayou and desperately clung to branches and trees as they fought the current for 18 hours waiting to be rescued.
‘We were hanging on for dear life,’ Connellan said from his hospital bed where he is recovering from burns and other injuries.
‘We were trying to get to people who were stranded but the boat lost control and went into the power lines. It was horrible.’
Butterfield, also speaking from his hospital bed, said: ‘The water smelled putrid, – like stagnant sewage, mixed with everything else. There was heavy rain on us all night and I was trying to catch drops in my mouth to get some water. We began to suffer from frostbite in our fingers and toes as it got colder during the night and we had to remove our waterlogged clothes.
The accident happened about 10 minutes after the motorboat left on its mission at 3 p.m. Monday. The journalists along with one other man were rescued Tuesday morning at around 11:45 a.m.
DailyMail.com reporter Alan Butterfield (pictured with hood on right) was one of the seven men onboard a boat when it was electrocuted by submerged power lines in Houston on Monday. They were filmed on a Facebook Live video (above) shortly before the accident
Senior reporter Butterfield (left) and photojournalist Ruaridh Connellan (right) are now recovering in hospital after they were swept away into the swollen and fast moving waters
Senior reporter Alan Butterfield (left) and photojournalist Ruaridh Connellan were swept away into the swollen and fast moving Greens Bayou and desperately clung to branches and trees as they fought the current for 18 hours waiting to be rescued
Four of the men haven’t been seen since Monday when their boat was electrocuted by power lines in Houston. Some can be seen above in a Facebook Live video prior to the accident
The accident happened about 10 minutes after the motorboat left on its mission at 3 p.m. Monday. The journalists along with one other man were rescued Tuesday morning at around 11:30 a.m.
‘Alan and I and another guy grabbed onto a canoe that was attached to the motorboat,’ Connellan said. ‘As we were forced through the water we came to a tree. Alan and the other guy were able to climb up but I couldn’t.
‘I held a branch and it snapped. I was washed away again and then grabbed another tree and then barbed wires. There were police boats and helicopters overhead and we were screaming but no one saw us.’
The journalists were in Houston reporting on the horrific floods and had joined five volunteer rescuers on Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. who were trying to reach an elderly woman who was trapped by Hurricane Harvey flood waters.
DAILYMAIL.COM REPORTER ALAN BUTTERFIELD’S ACCOUNT
‘We stopped the car at an off-ramp because the water was high and we saw a group of men with a boat who said they were going to rescue an elderly relative in a wheelchair and one of her neighbors,’ explained Butterfield from his hospital bed.
‘It was an older motorboat, about 17ft, had an open bow and was towing a dinghy. There was only one lifejacket in the boat.’
‘The men were speaking Spanish and I speak Spanish, so I asked if we could join them. I thought we were going to some nearby neighborhood but we went about a mile to a neighborhood near a bayou.
I was sitting, talking with Ruaridh in the bow of the boat when I looked up and saw we were veering into power lines that had come down and were hanging low over a submerged bridge and in the water.
‘The strong current was carrying the boat towards a power line. We were about 20 feet from the line and we could hear the transformers blow and see sparks flying.
‘I was desperate to get away from the power lines so I jumped out of the boat and so did everyone else.
‘I heard the boat crash into the lines, the noise was just awful. The boat was crackling and smoking.
‘I couldn’t see anyone else as everyone had jumped into the water. I was desperately trying to swim away from the power lines in the water. I felt electricity in the water, it paralyzes you for a second. How we survived electrocution, I don’t know.
‘I heard Ruaridh call my name, he was 50 feet on the other side of the power line. Luckily, I was swept under the power lines where they were hanging a little over the water and I was able to grab on to the capsized dinghy with Ruaridh and another man, Jose (31).
‘At this point it was around 3.30pm in the afternoon. We were going downriver, the current was so fast.
‘I was telling Jose and Ruaridh that we needed to grab onto a tree as we passed. We managed to direct the dinghy towards a tree and cling on. Jose got himself to the top of the tree. It took me longer as I had dislocated my shoulder. I wasn’t aware at the time as I had kicked into survival mode. I don’t know how I did it. I managed to get up the tree and I straddled the trunk of the tree.
‘We took off our shoes to get a better grip on the slippery trunk and branches – one slip and the water would have carried you away to who knows where. One fall could end your life and we were just saved one time.
‘Ruaridh didn’t have any strength left in his arms to pull himself out of the water after fighting against the current, so he spent the whole night clinging onto a tree branch in the water and hoping that it wouldn’t break. He kept asking me if we were going to die and told me to tell his parents and girlfriend that he loved them.
‘I promised him we were not going to die, we were going to make it.
‘We thought we were going to be rescued as we could see about ten helicopters flying overhead. One stopped around 100 yards away and was dropping ropes. We were yelling help and Jose was waving and wearing a yellow jacket at the top of the tree. But the rain was torrential and the winds must have been around 50mph, they couldn’t see us.
‘The water smelled putrid, – like stagnant sewage, mixed with everything else. There was heavy rain on us all night and I was trying to catch drops in my mouth to get some water. We began to suffer from frostbite in our fingers and toes as it got colder during the night and we had to remove our waterlogged clothes.
‘We were taking turns in yelling for help in the darkness. We could see neighborhoods about 300-400 yards but no one came. We didn’t see another person, a lot of the homes seemed to have been abandoned.
We held onto the tree for 18 hours until about 11.45am the next morning. Thankfully, three guys from the Texas Department of Public Safety heard us while they were out on a powerboat. When we saw them our prayers were answered. They didn’t even know about the accident or the missing men. It’s been such chaos down here.’
‘Up until then, I thought we would be there for another night. I didn’t tell the others, but I thought we might be there until at least Thursday until the water receded. I could see from the water mark on the trees that it had hardly gone down in the 18 hours we were there.
The three men were taken to a hospital in Houston.
‘I fractured my toe, I have a gash on my knee cap that required stitches and a black eye. I have electrical burns and I am under observation for my heart. We are all on strong antibiotics after spending so long in the water and have frostbite on our fingers and toes from exposure.
‘We were pretty beat up, Ruaridh suffered badly from being in the water all night. The branch that Ruaridh was originally hanging onto broke and he was lucky to be able to latch onto another tree about 50 feet down current. His hands are badly beaten up.
‘My girlfriend was frantically worried, she called me 40 times and has been calling the police department and the Red Cross.’
Four of the rescuers are missing. They have been identified as Ben Vizuelt, 31, Yahir Vizuelt, 25, George Lopez, 31 and Gustavo Rodriguez-Hernandez, 40.
A fifth volunteer, Jose Vizuelt, 30, has also been hospitalized.
The group tried to navigate Houston’s heavily flooded Normandy neighborhood to reach a wheelchair-bound resident but lost control of their motorboat and as the boat moved into the current, it started to drift toward the power lines.
The live cables sent a powerful electric shock through the craft tossing the seven occupants overboard.
Butterfield was able to climb up a tree where he was stranded overnight following the accident that took place at around 4 p.m. Monday afternoon.
Butterfield, Connellan and one of the four volunteers were rescued Tuesday morning by a boat crew from the Texas Department of Public Safety and taken to the hospital.
However the four other occupants of the electrocuted vessel have not been since and rescue efforts are underway to find them.
‘We were hanging on for dear life,’ photojournalist Ruaridh Connellan said from his hospital bed where he is recovering from burns and other injuries.’
Family of the missing men have been posting photos on social media in a bid to track them down. Yahir Vizuet Rubio (left) and Ben Jimmy Vizueth (right) are among those still missing
Gustavo Rodriguez Hernandez (left) and George Lopez (right) are also among the four who went missing late on Monday following the boat accident
The group is believed to have lost control of their motorboat (above) and drifted towards fallen power lines. The live cables are thought to have sent a powerful electric shock through the craft tossing the seven occupants overboard
Connellan and Butterfield suffered burns while Butterfield also sustained a dislocated shoulder. Both are in stable condition at Houston’s Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital although the condition of the third man is not yet known.
Perla Jaquez, the wife of one of the missing rescuers posted Tuesday night on Facebook to say: ‘3 found still missing four… please continue to share.’ Mrs Jaquez said the last known location of the missing crew was ‘somewhere in Normandy, Uvalde, Wallisville @ Greens Bayou’, all areas that have suffered extensive flooding.
The accident happened as Hurricane Harvey continued to dump record rainfall on Houston, leaving vast swaths of America’s fourth largest city underwater and at least 15 people reported dead.
Victims are said to include six members of the same family who drowned after their van was swept away by floodwaters on Sunday afternoon. The driver was able to escape but Devy Saldivar, 16, her brothers and sister Dominic, 14, Xavier, 8, and Daisy, 6, as well as their great-grandparents, Manuel, 83, and Belia, 81, all perished.
Veteran Houston police officer Sgt Steve Perez, 60, also died when his patrol car sank in floodwaters Sunday. Sgt Perez was driving to work in downtown Houston when he found himself trapped in torrents of water at Interstate 45 and the Hardy Toll Road.
Hurricane Harvey, and later Tropical Storm Harvey, set a new continental US record for rainfall for a tropical system after five days of rain. The previous mark of 48 inches set in 1978 in Medina, Texas, by Tropical Storm Amelia, was beaten by a weather station southeast of Houston which reported 49.32 inches of rain as of Tuesday.
Thousands of people have fled their homes in search of emergency shelter as the flooding has left residential streets resembling raging rivers and swamps. According to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, there are currently about 20,000 Hurricane Harvey evacuees in shelters. More than 9,000 of those are crammed into Houston’s convention center – almost double what officials initially had planned.
Said a spokesperson for DailyMail.com: ‘We are actively working with local authorities to determine the whereabouts of the other occupants of the boat.
‘Our thoughts and prayers are with our reporting team and their families but especially with the families of the search party.’
Perla Jaquez, the wife of one of the missing men, posted a map on Facebook showing the rescue route she believes the men took in their boat before they went missing on Monday