Survivors recall boat getting ‘sucked through’ Mississippi River dam

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Tuesday's dramatic rescue on the Mississippi River brings back terrifying moments.

That's as a disabled fishing boat with a broken anchor and stalled motor drifts toward disaster.

"The boat capsized," recalled Sally Jo Slocum, who was rescued. "We got sucked through the dam under it and through the rollers."

Four people emerged from the frigid, swirling current. Slocum's husband, Charles, did not make it out.

Get more coverage on the incident -- click here.

"We have very high water, very swift current, very cold water -- all recipes for a fatal boat accident," said Conservation Officer Steve Francisko.

It happened at Lock and Dam 14 in LeClaire. Unable to grab so-called "last chance" blocks, they were pulled through one of 17 gates.

"When you go through there, it's kind of like a drowning machine," said Dennis Shannon, Army Corps of Engineers. "You go through that gate, and you spin through and pop back out."

First responders rescued three people. Another person swam safely to shore.

"It's a miracle they survived," Shannon said.

But it's also a miracle tempered by profound loss.

"He (Charles) had on the good life jacket," Slocum recalled. "He took it off, gave it to me and said he loved me and to save myself. He put on another one."

Nearly 24 hours later at the Lock and Dam, there are painful lessons about safety.

"You're supposed to be 600 feet above the dam and 150 feet below it," Shannon said.

Things like a marine radio, oars and better life jackets might have prevented Tuesday's accident.

It's something to think about as more boats enter the river in coming weeks. The Army Corps of Engineers offers boating safety brochures at each lock and at the Visitors Center on Arsenal Island.

"They shot through the dam in that ten foot opening and came out and survived," Shannon said. "They were pretty lucky."

Luck, though, that couldn't stop terrible loss.

"It's a nightmare that I wish I could wake up from," Slocum concluded.

Sadly, it was a real-life nightmare on the Mississippi River.