A relaxing horseback ride along the historic Lehigh Canal in the Weissport area nearly turned tragic yesterday morning.
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending.
Several areas on the canal have washouts from Thursday's heavy rainfall. One of the worst of these erosions is near Lock 7, about 1 1/2 miles north of Weissport where an overflow exists from the canal to the Lehigh River.
Matt Behler, 15, of Franklin Township, was riding his 30-year-old mare named Mollie. Trailing behind him was his cousin, Sage Miller, atop a 4-year-old horse named Neila.
"I've been riding her since I was 5," said Behler. "We ride every day."
Their ride was going well and the washed-out area didn't look too dangerous to Behler. There is fencing along the Lehigh River side of the tow path and Mollie, with the teenager on her back, stepped into the water.
The mare apparently then changed her mind and tried turning around. She fell into the water and the current started pulling her under the fence. She was partly under the fence, touching the swollen, fast-flowing water of the Lehigh River, but stopped in the nick of time.
A passer-by, Dr. Ronald Sherry happened on the scene and assisted. So did Sage.
In addition, a water rescue unit from the Lehighton Fire Department, as well as members of the Franklin Township Fire Department, were dispatched to the scene. Members of CART (Carbon Animal Rescue Team) and Lehighton Ambulance also responded.
Mark Nalesnik, Carbon County Emergency Management director, assisted Franklin Township Fire Chief Bruce Wolfe in the rescue operations.
For 45 minutes, Mollie was in the water. She eventually was guided to the opposite side of the runoff.
Chester Jones, who owns CLS Jones Inc., a framing business, brought a truck to the scene which had on it ladders and scaffolding. An aluminum "walkman," used as a walkway on scaffolding, was spanned over the overflow. Firefighters and CART members walked the horse across the metal plank to safety.
"You did everything right," one firefighter told Behler after the operation was completed. "You did a good job."
Frank Buonauito of the Franklin Township Police Department said the horse was standing up in the water when he reached the scene. He saw how fast the water was cascading the overflow so he immediately summoned the water rescue unit.
Kim Mulik of CART and Friends of Animals said the horse managed to get up but initially stood in the water. Other CART members at the scene were Donna Krum, chief emergency operations manager, and Kelly Hook.
Members of the Lehighton Fire Department were clad in wet suits in case an emergency rescue would have been required.
Wolfe praised the response of volunteer firefighters, stating that it was important they didn't act too hastily at the scene.
"We just wanted to do it safely," he said.
Behler remained calm and stood next to Mollie throughout most of the rescue ordeal. Afterward, he calmly talked with TV news crews.