Most have heard the phrase, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.” For two local fishermen, that was the case Sunday as timing and location aligned just right for them to save a family of five.
Jeff Henderson and Bart Amason were fishing on Lake Martin when five people jumped in the water to avoid being hit by a train. The two men just happened to be in the right place at just the right time.
“The fishing wasn’t that good but just good enough to keep us there,” Henderson said. “We were fishing in the Camp ASCCA slough and stayed for about 30 minutes after we debated leaving.”
When Henderson and Amason started to return home, they noticed something in the distance.
“We were a few hundred yards from the trestle,” Henderson said. “The water was muddy and full of debris. We noticed some color. It was five people walking across the trestle.”
The fishermen thought it odd but then started to hear the train whistle.
“Thirty seconds after seeing them we hear a train horn,” Henderson said. “They were running. They were running from west to east and were about 70 yards from the edge of the lake. I knew something was about to happen so I gassed the boat.”
Before they could get to the trestle, four of the five jumped into the water and the fifth hung from a cross tie as the train passed over attempting to stop.
“We got there and the lady was afraid to drop in,” Henderson said. “We threw every life preserver in the water and used a dip net to help pull her out of the water first.”
Henderson said he aligned the boat pointing it up stream to better control it with the added water flow from recent rains.
Henderson and Amason pulled the other four from the water too. Henderson said they waved to the conductor of the train who stopped the train to alert the conductor they pulled the people from the water. Hill and Amason took them to the Alexander City boat ramp at Coley Creek.
Henderson said the five were lucky they were not hurt.
“There was a lot of debris in the water,” Henderson said. “I don’t know how quick hypothermia sets in, but the first person we pulled out was shivering bad. The water temperature was 55 degrees.”
Henderson said God played a role in the pair continuing to fish Sunday afternoon.
“Five minutes either way would have made a difference in them living or not,” Henderson said. “We could have passed through before they dropped in or we could have gotten there a few minutes too late. God had a reason for keeping us fishing.”
Henderson said he has fished around and under the trestle before but never saw anyone crossing it on foot.
“I’ve never seen it, never even conceived it,” Henderson said. “I’ve been fishing under the trestle thousands of times. You can hear the train whistle all the way back to Alexander City. You can hear it for miles.”
Henderson said he spoke with representatives of Northfolk Southern Railroad and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) but Outlook calls to the railroad and NTSB went unreturned Thursday.