Saved by the 'frog man'Thomson couple recalls being airlifted out of flooded home
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
By the time the little “frogman” dropped out of the sky and told them it was time to leave, Thomson’s Alan and Linda Johnson had reached a similar conclusion. They just weren’t sure how to make it happen.
Alan had attempted to canoe to the neighbor’s home a couple doors down and been dissuaded by the speed and violence of the water that was flowing over the side of the Thomson Dam and reservoir.
Enter the Coast Guard and its bright orange helicopter.
“They came and hovered over the lake, then the house,” Linda said, explaining that their two-story home sits next to the reservoir lake at the top of Vermilion Street in Thomson. “We could see that they were looking in the house to see who was there, so we went out on the deck. That’s when the guy dropped from the helicopter, wearing a wet suit, fins and a snorkel, ready to brave the water.”
He gave the Johnsons one minute to get very few items together. Linda grabbed their work calendar – they own Alan Johnson Photography and this is peak senior photo season – a jacket, her comfy shoes and some vitamins. Then she got into the bright orange basket that was hanging from the helicopter.
“I am horribly afraid of heights,” said Johnson. “I just closed my eyes and it went up really fast; it didn’t spin at all. Then I felt it hit against the helicopter and some hands opened the cage and they got me into a seat. Then they went back down for Alan.”
Linda said “the frogman” explained that they were worried a dam north of the Thomson Dam might break.
“If that happened, it could challenge the integrity of the foundation of the house,” she said. “He said ‘I’d hate to see you go sliding down the hill in your house.’ Someone from the sheriff’s department called at about the same time and told us that it would be better to leave now than have them find our bodies at the end of the street.”
Now that street looks like something out of a war zone, as if “someone dropped five grenades on it,” she said. The photography studio will have to be almost completely renovated, along with a good portion of the lower floor of their home.
“The water came over the wall everywhere that there was a wall,” Linda said, “even when all the gates were up, it came over the wall. The force of the water was incredible.”
To make matters worse, they haven’t had time to work on the house much, because their calendar was full of portrait sessions that could be moved, but not cancelled. Since a couple days after the flood, they’ve relocated to The Suites in Canal Park, where they’ve had a room to sleep in and a room to use as a photography studio. Because taking photos is their bread and butter, they weren’t able to stop because of the flood. The students, Linda said, have been very understanding about the relocation.
On the bright side, they didn’t lose any photographs or their camera equipment although much of the studio was ruined. The computer is still working. They had time to move a lot of things upstairs before the downstairs flooded. And they’re alive and well.
“Our kids are just happy that we’re safe,” Linda said, noting that her daughter, Jen (Goeppinger) Velic, wanted to come up but because she’s expecting a baby any day now, Linda told her to stay away from the mold and mud for now.
“So are we,” Linda said.