NEW: Impact of girl's fall "felt like a ton of bricks," says man who caught her
NEW: "I asked God ... I said, 'Let me catch her, please," Steve St. Bernard says
NEW: Grateful mom hugs and thanks the 52-year-old bus driver
NEW: Faulty AC unit has been removed and child-safety bars placed on window
A veteran New York City bus driver on Tuesday played down any claims of heroism for snagging a 7-year-old girl who fell three stories from a Brooklyn apartment building a day earlier.
Steve St. Bernard, 52, says neighborhood children alerted him to the girl standing on top of a window air-conditioning unit, and he positioned himself underneath her.
“I asked God … I said, ‘Let me catch her, please. Don’t let me miss,’” the 10-year veteran of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) told CNN. “I don’t play baseball. I’m not a sportsman. I don’t want to miss.”
St. Bernard said the girl was up above him for an excruciating seven minutes before she fell into his arms.
The incident occurred Monday afternoon and was captured on amateur video, which soon surfaced online. It shows the girl, who neighbors said is a special-needs child, standing and apparently dancing on the air-conditioner, losing her balance and falling. One of at least two people standing on the sidewalk beneath her reaches out and catches her before she hits the ground.
“It felt like a ton of bricks … like a whole bag of rocks on me,” St. Bernard said. “We went down. She touched the floor but the impact wasn’t on her. It was me and her going down. I guess I absorbed the blow.”
Bernard and the girl were treated at a local hospital and released. Bernard hurt his arm and is now wearing a sling and can’t go to work.
Neighbors and onlookers have since hailed the bus driver as a hero while police investigate the incident, authorities said.
The child apparently was able to get onto an exterior air-conditioning unit because the window guards were too small for the opening, said New York City Housing Authority spokeswoman Sheila Stainback. There are now child-proof bars in place and the air conditioner unit has been removed from the window.
The girl’s mother told CNN affiliate WCBS that she thought her daughter was asleep and blamed the incident on the air conditioner, which she said was installed just a few days ago and was defective.
Deborah Reed, a witness who alerted the girl’s mother that her child was standing on the air conditioner, was emotional about the whole ordeal.
“I am just so thankful that everything turned out well – I really am,” she said.
But most grateful was the girl’s mother, who hugged and thanked St. Bernard on Tuesday.
Still, the bus driver is brushing aside the “hero” label.
“If you have kids or you love people, like me, it’s something you jump into action real quickly,” he said.
CNN’s Mary Snow and Kiran Khalid contributed to this report.