Woman lost on river is found alive 5 days later

The Schnepp children agreed: It was time to plan their mother's funeral.

Jeanne Schnepp, 63, disappeared sometime after 3 p.m. last Wednesday while she fished along the Wapsipinicon River near Anamosa.

Monday morning, Schnepp's middle child, Corey Schnepp, 35, rode one more time with a rescue crew searching for his mom. They found nothing.
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"They had cadaver dogs out looking for her," Corey Schnepp said. "We assumed the worst. Everybody did."

That afternoon, Schnepp's mobile phone rang. They had found his mom.

Somehow, she was alive.

Badly sunburned, dehydrated and sore, Jeanne Schnepp survived five days floating atop the Wapsipinicon in a gray raft.

"It was unreal," Corey Schnepp said. "You go from thinking you need to start making arrangements to hearing they found her and she was talking to the people in the ambulance on the way to the hospital."

A lifelong fisherwoman, Jeanne Schnepp usually cast her line from the river banks with a close friend beside her.

Last Wednesday, she went alone. Schnepp decided to fish from a rubber raft that nobody knew she owned. The river current carried her watercraft downstream, and she wasn't strong enough to paddle against it.

The water deposited her in a low spot about eight to 12 feet away from the bank. Surrounded by brush in a sort of sinkhole, Schnepp's raft was about three feet below an area of brush and tree debris - effectively invisible to the search teams that scoured the area.

A legion of Jones County rescue workers and volunteers combed the river banks, dragged the river bottom and walked nearby cornfields in the search.

"She said she could hear the boats going by," Corey Schnepp said. "But they couldn't see her and she couldn't get their attention."

Finally, Monday afternoon, Larry Williams, who lives along the river, saw an arm holding an oar shoot up in the air. He called for help. Rescue workers rushed her to St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids.

"There are very few stories like this that have a happy ending," said Jones County Sheriff Mark Denniston. "From everything we were hearing, we didn't think there was much of a chance she was anywhere but in the water and probably gone."

Jeanne Schnepp wasn't physically able to get out of the raft or work her way to the shore, her son said.

"She's getting older and doesn't get around as good as she used to," Corey Schnepp said.

The area where she was trapped was well-shaded, Denniston said.

"Somebody was looking out for her, that's for sure," the sheriff said. "The spot was partially shaded, so she was out of direct sun for most of the day. Mother Nature did her a favor, too, because it wasn't so awful hot the last few days, and that helped a lot."

Inside the raft, Jeanne Schnepp survived on a small bottle of water and two cans of soda pop. She had no food.

Hospital officials took Schnepp to a regular inpatient room Tuesday afternoon after she had spent the night in intensive care, her son said.

Besides a bad sunburn, doctors are monitoring a series of sores developed on her back while lying in a small pool of water inside the boat.

Despite her ordeal, Jeanne Schnepp remained in good spirits, her son said, though the family plans to take a more active role in scheduling their mother's extracurricular activities.

"We've already told her no more fishing," Corey Schnepp said. "Well, at least no more fishing out of a raft."

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