Utah family rescued from icy river by bystanders

Three children were pulled from a submerged car in the Logan River in Utah. A 4-year old boy and 9-year old girl were revived by passers-by.

(AP Photo/Chris Willden)
A Honda skidded off the road into the Logan River in Utah Saturday Dec. 31, 2011. Rescuers saved three children trapped in the car.

Former police officer Chris Willden didn't hesitate when he realized children were trapped in an upside down car in an icy Utah river. He pulled his handgun, pushed it up against the submerged windows and shot out the glass.

Then he reached inside.

"I was trying to grab arms, but I couldn't feel anything," Willden said. "I'm thinking ... 'What are we going to do?'"

He turned to see up to eight other passers-by had scrambled down the 10-foot embankment to help after coming upon the accident along U.S. 89 in Logan Canyon on Saturday afternoon.

RECOMMENDED: Four heroic stories

The driver, Roger Andersen, 46, of Logan, had lost control of the car as he tried to brake while heading northbound in slippery conditions. Andersen was able to free himself, but his 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son were trapped along with a second 9-year-old girl.

Highway Patrol Lt. Steve Winward said that after shooting out a window, the rescuers helped turn the Honda Accord upright in the Logan River and rescue all three trapped children.

"(The driver) was panicked, doing everything he could to get in through the doors, but they wouldn't budge," said Willden, who had jumped into the water with his own father.

"I remember thinking to myself, 'You're going to see some dead kids, get ready.' I've got three of my own and it was going to be (an awful) start to the New Year."

Willden said he tried unsuccessfully to open windows and doors. He then used his firearm just as he had done in training for his current job as a bodyguard and Department of Defense contractor.

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 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.

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 performed CPR.

"Emotions started taking over when he started to breathe. Everybody started to cheer. Lots of tears and clapping," said Mullahkel, a father of a 4-year-old.

Willden, 35 of Ogden, was wrapping up his bleeding forearms cut by the broken window when he heard cheers.

"That was awesome," he said. "I knew that's where the little boy was."

He would later learn both the boy and his sister, who were flown by air ambulance to Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, had survived.

Bonnie Midget, a hospital spokeswoman, said Sunday both were taken out of intensive care Sunday but still in the hospital, listed in fair condition as they recover from hypothermia.

Winward said the father and the second girl escaped injury.

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.

He noted that both he and his father are 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.

RECOMMENDED: Four heroic stories

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.