Two men kayaking in swift waters along the Oconee River in Milledgeville Saturday afternoon had to be rescued by local firefighters after they tried to paddle through rough waters downstream following severe thunderstorms in the area, authorities say.

A third man, who also was part of the kayaking trio, managed to get to shore on his own.

An officer with the Milledgeville Police Department said one of the three men dialed 911 on his cellphone seeking help because he was in danger of drowning.

Fortunately, all three men escaped injury.

The incident happened shortly after 5 p.m. about a half mile south of the Oconee River Greenway.

The two men were rescued shortly before 6 p.m.

Firefighters from the city of Milledgeville, as well as Baldwin County Fire Rescue and other first responders,  were called to the scene of the Oconee Greenway where rescue boats were put into the choppy waters of the river in search of the two men.

Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency Director Wayne Johnson also responded to the rescue call.

“We only had to rescue two of the three men,” Milledgeville Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Wren Marshall told The Union-Recorder in a telephone interview on Monday. “Evidently, one of the guys had already gotten out on his own. He was not rescued by us.”

Marshall identified the trio of victims as Chittikhun Kiatratnakorn, 34, of Milledgeville; Austin Ochi, 23, of Baxter, Tenn.; and Gavin Daniel Ray, 33, of Milledgeville, also of Baxter, Tenn.

“We recovered both men and their kayaks,” Marshall said.

Two of the victims were clinging to branches just above the rushing waters when firefighters reached them and pulled them to safety, Marshall said.

“They (victims) were right there together when they were rescued,” Marshall said.  

The veteran firefighter said it made all the firefighters — city and county alike — feel good to know they had helped save the lives of two from possibly drowning.

“Anytime that you go into a situation like that one was, you’re never really sure of what you have, but you end up saving the life of a person or two, then you’ve done your duty for the day,” Marshall said.

The city battalion fire chief said they had plenty of help from city and county firefighters and fortunately they didn’t have to do a lot of searching before the victims could be rescued and taken to safety.

“Everybody involved did a great job,” said Milledgeville Fire Chief William Collier.

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