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Children rescued from icy Utah river back home

- Associated Press - Monday, January 2, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY — Three children trapped in an upturned car after it skidded into a river were released Monday from a hospital, two days after they were saved by several passers-by.

The children had been treated for hypothermia, said Primary Children's Medical Center spokeswoman Bonnie Midget. The family wasn't answering phone calls.

At least nine people helped right the car in the river.

"It's an amazing story, so good," Laurel Anderson Gilbert, the driver's sister, told The Associated Press on Monday. "We're so grateful. It was a miracle."

The father, Roger Andersen, lost control of the car Saturday on a slippery, narrow stretch of road in Logan Canyon. His sister said he was refusing interview requests.

One of the first people on the scene was former police officer Chris Willden, who didn't hesitate when he realized children were trapped in the upside down Honda Accord. He pulled his handgun, pushed it up against the submerged rear window, shot out the glass and 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 people had scrambled down the 10-foot embankment to help after coming upon the accident along U.S. 89.

Andersen, 46, of Logan, 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.

"(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 waist-deep 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 job as a bodyguard and Department of Defense contractor.

One of the girls had found an air pocket but was trapped in her seat belt. Willden cut it with a pocket knife and pulled her from the rear passenger window. She and Andersen escaped injury.

The other two children were unconscious, the boy upside down in his car seat and the second girl floating in the front passenger compartment, Willden said.

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."

Willden said he doesn't believe any bystanders took photographs of the car when it was upside down in the river — the Honda was flipped upright within minutes by rescuers.

 

Associated Press writer Lynn DeBruin contributed to this report.

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