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Souris River rescue: Lasso saves family

By Staff | Jun 28, 2011

A cowboy’s talent was instrumental in saving a family as their car was swallowed by flood waters on June 14.

A regular commute to work turned into a nightmare for a family. Jose Antonio Durand, Towner, was driving to work at the Sandhills Dairy when a sudden cloudburst changed a rain shower into zero visibility.

The swollen Souris River had overflowed its banks and flood waters were threatening U.S. Highway 2. Many state and county roads were closed due to flooding. When the torrent of rain hit, Durand found his car hydroplaning and suddenly the car was swept into the flood waters.

As the car was gradually sinking, Jose’s wife, Blanca, was desperately trying to get the passenger window down. “I prayed and prayed,” she said, “but it was so difficult to get out of the narrow window opening and the water was coming in.”

Meanwhile, a local cowboy, John Rognlien, was driving in the opposite direction and noted two cars had stopped. He turned around and returned to the site where people were helplessly watching the sinking vehicle. As John got out of his truck, he grabbed his lasso and called out, “Anyone in that car?”

He was told that it appeared three people were in the car, two adults and one child.

By that time, John could see a woman bobbing in the water and it appeared a child was holding onto the back of her neck.

“I will throw you a rope,” shouted John as he prepared to throw the lasso toward the woman. The woman missed hanging onto the rope the first two tries, but connected on the third try.

By that time, the woman was 30 feet from the edge of the highway. Her husband had managed to get out through the passenger window and was also holding onto his wife. Neither of them could swim, nor could John Rognlien.

John’s lasso was able to pull all three people safely to the side of the road. The other people gathered at the scene said they had no equipment in their cars to help the struggling family to shore.

Cold and shivering, John drove the family to their destination. “It was one of the worst cloudbursts I have seen,” said John. “Visibility was reduced to zero.”

Jose is back at his job. His wife, Blanca, is thanking God daily for the “Cowboy Guardian Angel”, and seven-year-old Alexis is enrolled in swimming classes.

John Rognlien, a professional rodeo rider and winning bronc rider, returned to his ranch and the daily chores at hand.

John comes from a family of rodeo winners. Ranching and cattle have been their livelihood. He was forced to put his professional rodeo career on hold some years ago when he was diagnosed first with encephalitis, and later with French polio, which left him totally paralyzed.

John’s recovery was slow and included learning to regain use of his arms and legs. Eventually he was retrained to walk again. He knows what it meant to “regain his life” again even though professional rodeo competition would no longer be possible.

Being called a “Cowboy Angel of Mercy” by Blanca Durand makes John shrug his shoulders. “I just happened to come along and my lasso came in handy for the rescue. I knew what to do and it was a relief to see the family members get to safety.”

John and his wife, Maxine, have four children and live on a working ranch south of Towner.

“I’m no angel. I just did what anyone would do to save the family,” was John’s final comment.

But, to the Durand family, John will always be the “Cowboy Guardian Angel”.

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