'He was so brave:' Man drowns trying to save stranger from Missouri river

NOEL, Mo. – Missouri State Highway Patrol says a man died while trying to rescue a woman Friday night from the Elk River.

After the current swept Madison Capps under the surface near a dam, Jacob Farley, of Wichita, swam over and helped keep her alive for about 30 minutes. The two had never met before.

MSHP said a rescue team threw a rope into the river. The agency's incident report said Capps caught the rope, but Farley drowned. He was 26 years old and the father of a 3-year-old boy, Capps later learned.

"He was a stranger," Capps said. "He didn't know me. He came to jump and save me anyways."

Every summer, Madison Capps goes on float trips. Her latest trip is the most memorable.

"I've never been afraid of the water, but now it's going to be different for the rest of my life probably," Capps said. "I don't think I'll ever be able to forget that and what he did for me."

On Friday evening, Capps and her group of about a dozen people went for a swim.

"Half of us went in first, and then myself and a couple of my other friends and my boyfriend were in the second group, and we went down to find out where they went," Capps said. "My boyfriend can’t swim so we were just going to go where we could touch, and then we got there, and it just kind of dropped off and he started to freak out."

The Paola woman said they were trying to push her boyfriend back to where he could touch.

"One of his friends has a floatie, so I yelled at him to give it to us, and it was not long after he had grabbed onto the floatie. Then I think at least four or five us got sucked in by the dam and the rest of them got out on a ledge," Capps said. "Everyone caught a log or tree in the water, and they were able to get out. I was the only one who got sucked under."

She didn't know it at the time, but Farley is likely the only reason she's alive.

MSHP says he jumped in, downstream, to save her.

"I got under again, and when I came back up, Jacob Farley was there," Capps said tearfully. "I looked at him and I asked him, 'What do we do?' He said, 'I don't know, but he stayed there with me, and he kept talking to me and every time I'd go under and resurface, I'd feel his hand on my back.'"

The river pulled them under and threw them out over and over again. They held themselves up on floaties when they could.

"There was a floating speaker in the water, and it had a long rope tied to it, and it got wrapped around my waist about five or six times," Capps said. "When I got it off, it wasn’t long after that he said there was something wrapped around his leg. And I told him he had to get it off, and he said he couldn’t. So we just sat there together until help came."

Finally, a rescue team came and threw a rope. They pulled Capps in, but Farley drowned.

"I'm feeling guilty," Capps said, "because if we hadn't been down there, he wouldn't have jumped in. But he was so brave -- and selfless."

Capps wants his family to know she'll never forget his sacrifice.

"I'm so thankful," Capps said, "because I don't know if I would have held on if he weren't down there with me."

Capps and her family will go to Farley's funeral to honor him and thank his family.

She said some of Farley's friends and family reached out to her. His family told her he loved tattoos and cars. He loved indulging in his grandmother's homemade fried chicken.

The YMCA said if someone is in distress in the water, your first instinct may be to jump in to save them. But they said, instead, reach for them with a long object, or throw them something to pull them to safety.