Local, State Police Use Helicopter to Rescue Man From Icy Merrimack River

State Police Trooper John Hazelrigg and Tactical Flight Officer Russ Phippen checked their helicopter for damage after rescuing a man from the Merrimack River. (Courtesy photograph)

State and local police used a helicopter to rescue a distraught and freezing man from the icy Merrimack River Wednesday night.

Shortly after 7 p.m., members of the Lowell Fire and Police Departments responded to reports of a person screaming in the river near the Aiken Street bridge. Upon arrival, an emotionally distraught male was found standing on rocks in waist-deep water.

Two rescue boats were dispatched in an effort to save the man, but the propellers were quickly damaged as a result of the ice. A State Police helicopter, piloted by Trooper John Hazelrigg and carrying Tactical Flight Officer Russ Phippen, was then dispatched from its base in Lawrence.

By that time, the man had slipped into water that was neck-deep and was at risk for hypothermia.

Pilot Hazelrigg maneuvered the helicopter for several minutes to get in position so Phippen could hang outside the aircraft and grab the victim, who was not moving on his own. Once inside the helicopter, the man was flown to Lowell General Hospital. The helicopter’s door had frozen in the open position during the rescue, so the flight was undertaken with the door open.

The rescued man received emergency care and is expected to survive, State Police said.