May 17, 2016

IowaWatch Connection Podcast: The Moment Of Rescue – The Making Of A Pulitzer-Winning Photo

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The Pulitzer-winning photo of the river rescue in downtown Des Moines: Patricia Ralph-Neely is pulled from near the Center Street dam by construction worker Jason Oglesbee on Tuesday. A rescue team from the Des Moines Fire Department tried several times to rescue the woman but could not get close enough.

Provided by the Des Moines Register. Used with permission.

The Pulitzer-winning photo of the river rescue in downtown Des Moines: Patricia Ralph-Neely is pulled from near the Center Street dam by construction worker Jason Oglesbee on Tuesday. A rescue team from the Des Moines Fire Department tried several times to rescue the woman but could not get close enough.

A dramatic rescue at a Des Moines dam in 2009 resulted in a Pulitzer Prize for a Des Moines Register photographer. But there’s more to the story.

The podcast is part of an IowaWatch Connection-Humanities Iowa series on Pulitzer Prize-winning Iowa journalism. The series is part of the Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires Initiative, a joint venture of the Pulitzer Prizes Board and the Federation of State Humanities Council and Humanities Iowa, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities in celebration of the 2016 centennial of the Prizes. The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism—IowaWatch was awarded a $4,500 Humanities Iowa contract as a partner in the Pulitzer project. IowaWatch selected the topics covered in IowaWatch Connection programs and how to report them. Other Iowa media outlets involved in the project are Iowa Public Television and Iowa Public Radio.

On the afternoon of June 30, 2009, Patricia Ralph-Neely was struggling for her life in the churning water below the Center Street Dam on the Des Moines River. She and her husband, Alan Neely, had gone over the dam in their boat. Alan Neely died in the accident.

Register photographers Mary Chind, now Mary Willie, and Andrea Melendez were in the news room that afternoon. Melendez reported to the scene as rescuers attempted to pull Ralph-Neely from the water.

“I remember getting out of the car and seeing the woman in the water and you just get a pit in your stomach and you can’t believe this is happening. You can’t figure out why somebody can’t help her, get her. You feel helpless. You want to help her yourself. It’s hard to stand on the side of the river and take pictures of her and not help her, but at the same time, what can I do,” Melendez said.

Melendez’s video camera battery was dead so she called Willie to bring a charged battery. It was Willie who got the prize-winning shot as a man dangled from a crane to rescue Ralph-Neely from the water.

Listen to the podcast to learn more.

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