AUBURN — Two Bates College students were plucked from the Androscoggin River early Wednesday night after being stranded on an island as the sun went down.
Police went to Great Falls shortly after 6 p.m. when callers reported seeing the two men on the rocky island just below the falls. After several attempts to get back to the mainland on their own, the two men sat on the rocks waiting for help while a growing group of onlookers watched from behind the Esplanade.
Police said the students had gone down to the river on the Lewiston side, beneath the train trestle. They went into the water but found they couldn't get back to shore on their own.
"They got in over their heads," said Lewiston police officer Tom Murphy, who climbed down the sharp, rocky bank behind Great Falls Plaza. "We couldn't reach them with that kind of current. We were losing the light, too, so we called for the boat."
A roughly 60-foot-wide portion of the river separated the two men from the safety of shore. That portion is just below the falls at West Pitch and is deceptively tricky.
"The current here is really strong," Auburn police Officer Scott Corey said.
So, as the sun went down, the men were resigned to waiting on the island while the boat was sent out to carry them to safety.
A local man who had been biking in the area said he had spotted the two men "bouldering" on the Lewiston side of the river shortly before emergency crews were called out.
Bouldering, he explained, is a way of rock-climbing for practice without full gear.
"They seemed to be reasonably skilled," the bicyclist said. "But they could have chosen a better location. This is probably one of the stupidest places to do it."
Once the Auburn Rescue boat reached the men, it was an easy operation. The pair climbed into the boat and were ferried back to the launch behind the Gritty McDuff's brew pub.
The men were not identified. On shore, they shrugged before climbing into a police cruiser. Police said the two men were questioned but charges were not likely.