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Onlookers pull 3 children from car in frigid Utah river

By Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 5:57 PM EST, Mon January 2, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A car slides on slushy roads into the Logan River, trapping 3 kids inside
  • A group of men entered to water to push the flipped car to safety
  • The frantic rescue took place in a span of a minute
  • All 3 children were released Monday from a Utah hospital, a state trooper says

(CNN) -- Several passers-by jumped into a frigid Utah river to rescue three young children whose car had flipped and filled with water, police and one of the rescuers said Monday.

The frenzied rescue occurred about noon Saturday as slush and snowflakes began to coat U.S. 89 in and around Logan Canyon.

One driver on that two-lane road tried to stop because of a crash ahead of him, but his car ended up sliding down an embankment into the Logan River, said Lt. Steve Winward, a spokesman for the Utah Highway Patrol.

That was where Chris Wilden came across a minivan facing the wrong way on a bridge and heard "several women screaming something about kids being trapped."

Wilden, a former police officer, said he looked down and saw a gray car upside-down in the water. A man, later determined to be a father of one or more of the trapped children, had jumped into the river.

Wilden -- a firearms instructor who says he never leaves "the house without a gun, a knife and a flashlight" -- joined the father in the water, where he saw children inside the vehicle.

"I shot out a window, then reached out through the opening," Wilden recalled. "But reaching around, I couldn't feel anything."

Fortunately, a group of six to eight men had come upon the scene and likewise plunged into the river, which was about 5 deep at that point. Together, the men were able to push the car up so that it was no longer totally submerged, Wilden said.

He saw a 9-year-old girl who said she couldn't get out of the car. So Wilden used his knife to get her out.

Yet the situation seemed much more bleak for another 9-year-old girl, who had been in the front seat, according to Utah state Trooper Phil Rawlinson.

"She was in the driver's compartment, floating upside-down and as gray as could be," Wilden said.

That girl was taken out, and Rawlinson said she began breathing again soon thereafter.

The men also took out a 4-year-old boy who was stuck in his car seat, with people nearby -- including a nurse who happened to be on the scene -- performing CPR on him.

The entire incident -- as far as how long the children and their car were submerged, and the time they were rescued -- took about a minute, Winward said.

At that point, Wilden said, he somberly returned to his car, fearing that two of the children would not survive.

Then, from his car, Wilden heard a burst of cheers and looked back down the road.

"Everybody had started clapping and yelling," he said. "I knew they'd revived the boy."

All three children were driven about a mile down the canyon to an ambulance, according to Rawlinson, who was the first trooper on the scene. They were transported to Logan Regional Hospital, he said.

By the next day, they were all out of the intensive care unit and were in fair condition as of Sunday night, according to Winward.

And on Monday morning, they were heading back home after being released from the hospital, Rawlinson said.

"I didn't think this would have a happy ending," Wilden said Monday. "I'm just glad there were a lot more people there to help."

Rawlinson said that, although it is part of his job to take part in such rescues, this weekend's incident is particularly memorable. He expressed thanks for those Good Samaritans who saved the three children, plus the fact he lived in an area where people would so willingly and so quickly act to help people in need.

"This is one of those stories that kind of tops the other ones, as far as outcome and what people did," Rawlinson said. "Police officers and firefighters can't be everywhere at once. It's nice to have people around ... who are willing to go out of their way to do something to help."

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