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Massachusetts man meets troopers who saved his life



Massachusetts State Police shared their story of how a local man came back to meet the troopers who saved his life and to recap that harrowing night. This is their story:


A young man recently contacted State Police to ask if he could come by and meet two Troopers.

The young man’s name is Raveth Than. He wanted to meet Troopers Russell Phippen and John Hazelrigg, members of the State Police Air Wing, so he could thank them for saving his life.

On the cold night of Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, Lowell firefighters and police responded to a report of a man in the Merrimack River. Attempts to rescue the man by first one boat and then another failed as ice and rocks in the river damaged the craft.

On station that night above the river was Air 4, a helicopter from the Massachusetts State Police Air Wing. Trooper Hazelrigg was the pilot, and Trooper Phippen, the tactical flight officer. Their mission, standard for our Air Wing, was to illuminate the scene and provide direction and guidance to first-responders on the ground.

After the boat rescues failed, the man struggling in the river slipped deeper into the frigid water, which was now up to his head, and he was losing consciousness. By that time he had been in the frigid water more than a half-hour. It was then that the Troopers determined they would try to do something they were not even equipped to do, something that is not part of the Air Wing’s usual mission. In order to save the young man’s life, they would attempt a hands-on water rescue directly from the aircraft.

As has previously been reported, Trooper Phippen strapped himself into the rear seat and opened the door. Trooper Hazelrigg maneuvered carefully and deliberately and eventually, with great skill, positioned the hovering helicopter so low to the river surface and the drowning, freezing man that the aircraft’s skids were under water.

As the young man with his last strength tried to hold onto a rock or some other object under the strong current, and Trooper Hazelrigg held Air 4 in its precarious position, Trooper Phippen, leaned far outside the aircraft over the water and finally was able to grab hold of the hypothermic, nearly unresponsive man. The Trooper pulled him as far into the aircraft as he could and then lay down over him to keep him in place next to the open aircraft door, as Trooper Hazelrigg lifted off the river surface and flew directly to Lowell General. Upon their landing, the young man was rushed into emergency care. Medical staff later indicated that he would not have survived had he remained in the river much longer. As it was, he spent about a week in the hospital and has since been discharged and resumed his life.

The young man was Raveth Than, who last week, on his own initiative, came to the Air Wing’s northeastern base at Lawrence Airport and got to thank the men who saved his life.

For their part, Troopers Phippen and Hazelrigg were thrilled to meet Mr. Than for the second time in all of their lives, and this time under much better circumstances. The State Police wish Mr. Than the very best, and we thank him for taking the time to visit with the Troopers who helped him that night.

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