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PHS alum among soccer team rescued from Yellowstone River

COLUMBUS – The Stillwater County Search and Rescue successfully rescued all 22 members of the Rocky Mountain College women’s soccer team after becoming stranded on the Yellowstone River while on a float trip near Columbus on Monday, Aug. 13.

Former Polson Lady Pirate stand-out soccer player Tiara Duford was among those rescued.

“Us girls wanted to spend our day doing an activity that resulted in team bonding,” Duford said. “The weather has been extremely hot in Billings and we thought that floating the river would be a relaxing yet fun activity to do.”

The team put in at the Holmgren Fishing Access point around noon. For an hour and a half the squad enjoyed a leisurely afternoon before things became extremely dicey. 

“We came to a fork in the river that had given us three ways to go,” said Duford. “We did everything we could to try and go right down the middle. The current was too strong and pulled us straight into where we didn’t want to go.”

The swollen river’s current pushed the team’s tethered inner tubes right into a clump of partially submerged trees causing the tubes to become entangled and many to burst by the branches.

“Our tubes and ropes were caught on the trees and started popping. Girls were being taken down stream or thrown under the trees getting caught in the branches,” recounted Duford. “My first instinct was to get myself out of the water and rescue my teammates. I was able to pull myself up by a branch that was above me. Once I was on a log I began pulling two of my teammates up out of the water and making sure they made it to shore.”

According to Stillwater County dispatch, one of the players had a cell phone with service and was able to tell dispatchers their exact location.

“Thank goodness we had a few girls who are amazing swimmers because they were able to hold girls up and lift them onto the logs to climb to land,” said Duford. “Once we were all out of the water and on land, we came together and held each other tight waiting for search and rescue to come bring us back to safety.”

The rescue took about an hour and a half, while Stillwater County Search and Rescue and Columbus Fire and Rescue used a pair of boats to ferry the girls back to safety.

Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office and Columbus Ambulance also responded to the scene. None of the players suffered any injuries requiring medical attention.

“Though this was a tragic team bonding experience, we have chosen to look at it as more of a miracle than anything else,” Duford said. “It was an event that brought us closer together as one and opened our eyes to how lucky we are to have one another. God was with us and I am so thankful to have all of my girls with me today.”

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