Utah River Rescue: Bystanders Rescue Children After Crash
LYNN DeBRUIN 01/ 1/12 09:01 PM ET
SALT LAKE CITY — As many as 10 people jumped into an icy Utah river to help save three trapped children after a car plunged down a 10-foot embankment and flipped over, the state's Highway Patrol said Sunday.
The rescuers helped turn the Honda Accord upright in the Logan River, and one man shot out the car's window with a handgun and cut a seat belt to help free the children after the Saturday afternoon accident, patrol Lt. Steve Winward said.
The driver, Roger Andersen, 46, of Logan, lost control as he tried to brake while heading northbound on U.S. 89 during slick conditions. His 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son were trapped along with a second 9-year-old girl.
"He was panicked, doing everything he could to get in through the doors, but they wouldn't budge," said rescuer Chris Willden, who had jumped into the water with his own father after coming upon the crash scene.
Willden, a Department of Defense contractor with a background in law enforcement, shot out one window with his Glock handgun after trying unsuccessfully to open windows and doors. As he reached upward searching for arms and legs, he felt nothing.
"I remember thinking to myself, `You're going to see some dead kids, get ready,'" Willden said. "I've got three of my own and it was going to be (an awful) start to the New Year."
That's when he turned to see six or so other men scrambling down the bank into the water. Together they pushed up on the vehicle enough so they could see in through the windows.
One of the girls had found an air pocket and was breathing fine but was trapped in her seat belt. Willden cut it with a folding pocket knife and pulled her from the rear passenger window.
He said the other two children were lifeless, the boy upside down in his car seat and the second girl floating in the front passenger compartment.
The boy was cut out of his car seat and pulled out with the other girl.
"I didn't think they were going to be around for the New Year," Willden said.
Other rescuers made sure they were.
Buzzy Mullahkel of North Logan told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City that the boy wasn't breathing and didn't have a pulse but was revived when another passer-by quickly performed CPR.
"He took him from there and I just tried to get out of the way," said Mullahkel, a father of a 4-year-old himself. "Emotions started taking over when he started to breathe. Everybody started to cheer. Lots of tears and clapping."
Willden, 35 of Ogden, was warming up and wrapping up his bleeding forearms cut by the broken window when he heard cheers up the road.
"That was awesome," he said. "I knew that's where the little boy was."
The boy and his sister were flown by air ambulance to Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City.
Bonnie Midget, a hospital spokeswoman, said Sunday both are doing well after spending the night in intensive care. They were taken out of intensive care Sunday but still in the hospital, listed in fair condition as they recover from hypothermia.
The father and the second girl escaped injury, authorities said.
Mullahkel said the scene reminded him of another heroic rescue in Logan earlier this year. In that case, bystanders lifted a burning car off an injured motorcyclist and pulled him to safety. The motorcyclist survived and is recovering from his injuries.
"It was eerily similar," Mullahkel told the Deseret News. "Those men in the river just even now blow my mind. Look at these gentlemen, these men in this river in the middle of winter."
Willden said simply there was a mission to be accomplished. After all, he had slid into that icy river two years earlier – the only difference is his car didn't flip.
He noted that both he and his father are both former military/civilian police officers, while his sister and mother are emergency medical technicians.
"It's in our family to go out and help others," he said.