ORONO, Maine — Two Orono teenagers jumped into the Stillwater River on Monday afternoon to save a couple being swept away in the swift current. One of the boys said he was dragged under the water several times by the woman, who was close to drowning.
Even though he feared for his life each time the 27-year-old Eddington woman pulled him under the surface and water rushed into his lungs, Tyler Jewett, 16, said he just kept swimming and pulled the woman to shore.
“I wasn’t strong enough to hold both our weights above water,” said the athletic teen, who is 5 feet, 7 inches tall. “At the beginning, I was pulling her, but by the end we had both taken on so much water, we kinda swam together.”
Anton Klose, 16, jumped in the water with Jewett.
“They were pretty far out there and the current had taken them,” Klose said of the couple, both of whom screamed for help. “We had a pretty good swim to get to them. The man was able to find a rock and she kept going [downstream].
“The woman started to go under,” Klose added. “[Jewett] was pulling her up and she was pulling him under. I stopped at the man first to make sure he was OK, then I went to my friend.”
The two boys have been friends since the fourth grade. Both will be juniors at Orono High School this fall and play soccer and tennis for the Red Riots.
They decided to go swimming with other teens at Webster Park — jumping off a big rock that juts out of the water. At about 4 p.m. Monday the two friends decided to leave and ran into the couple, whom they did not know, as they got to shore.
“We were about to dry off when we heard this man and woman screaming,” Jewett said. “Our friends out on the rock were panicking, pointing and yelling for help.”
Jewett just reacted and jumped into the water without fully realizing what was happening.
“I kind of figured out what was going when I got there,” he said. “She was going under the water. She couldn’t stay above water and she said she was drowning.”
Klose said it took a second or two for him to fully realize the couple was in serious trouble. At first he thought they might be fooling around.
“By the time I saw her go under, I knew it was life or death,” he said.
Jewett said he was working so hard to save the unknown woman that he didn’t realise Klose was at his heels until the three reached the banks of the stream.
The 28-year-old Orono man clung to the rock until Orono firefighters arrived. They put a life preserver on him and four firefighters helped him swim to safety, the teens said.
The couple either didn’t know how to swim or were inexperienced swimmers, the teenagers surmised.
“It does say, ‘Swim at your own risk,’” one of the teens noted Wednesday as they walked past the Webster Park sign down to the river’s edge.
Klose has been swimming at the local swimming hole since he was young, but Monday’s visit was only the second time Jewett had entered the water at that location.
“I’m still pretty shaken up,” Jewett said. “I’m physically tired, and I don’t know. It all keeps playing in my head again.”
He still had the taste of river water in his mouth nearly 48 hours after the incident, he said.
Both Jewett and the woman were taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
“I didn’t need much,” the teenager said. “I just needed time to calm down.”
She was released from the hospital shortly after Jewett was. Attempts to reach the couple for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Orono police Capt. Josh Ewing said police are well aware that people swim in the river off Webster Park even though the sign says that “swimming is not recommended.”
Police have been patrolling the area more since the near drowning, the teenagers have noticed.
When asked if they would do it again — jump into a fast-moving stream to save complete strangers — both boys said they would, without a doubt, and both thanked their parents for instilling in them a sense of duty.
“My parents always raised me to do what’s right,” Jewett said. “If someone needs help, you’ve got to help them.”
“Do what’s right” is what his parents taught him, Klose added.
His father, Robert Klose, said he is very proud of the two young men and even went so far as to call them heroes.
A firefighter called the elder Klose on Monday to tell him what happened. When he arrived at the North Main Avenue park, located on Marsh Island just over the bridge from downtown Orono, he saw firetrucks, ambulances and police vehicles with their lights flashing.
His son was sitting on the back of a firetruck with a blanket wrapped around him.
“He had kind of a Cheshire cat smile,” Robert Klose said. “The smile said to me: ‘You see I am capable of goodness even though I’m 16.’”