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Utah police officer dives into frozen pond to save boy who fell through ice

Washington County Sheriffs Office via AP | BDN
Washington County Sheriffs Office via AP | BDN
In this Monday, Dec. 25, 2017 photo provided by the Washington County Sheriffs Office, a search and rescue team work on the edge of a frozen pond in the town of New Harmony, north of St. George, Utah. A sheriff's deputy in southern Utah punched through the frozen pond on Christmas Day to rescue drowning 8-year-old boy. Washington County sheriff's Lt. David Crouse said the boy was chasing his dog Monday evening when another child saw him fall through the ice.
By Marwa Eltagouri, Washington Post

On Christmas Day, an 8-year-old boy was chasing his dog across a frozen pond in southwest Utah about 25 feet from the shore. He fell through the ice.

Another child saw him fall into the pond and ran back to tell the boy’s parents. Minutes later, Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Aaron Thompson arrived at the site in New Harmony and, without a moment’s hesitation, went out on the ice.

Temperatures in the small town, whose population was 207 residents in 2010, can average as low as 21 degrees in December.

Thompson knew the icy water would be unbearable, he told reporters at a news conference Tuesday, according to KSL.com. But he also knew he had to work quickly – that he had just seconds to save the boy.

He walked a few feet out onto the pond, then stomped on the ice before diving into the biting water, he told KSL.com. Once he was in, he used his arms and fists to break a path through the ice to where he thought the boy might be.

When the ice became too thick for his hands and fists to crack, he jumped on top of it, hoping his weight could puncture it. The further into the pond he went, the deeper it became, he said. The frigid water soon reached his neck. Thompson couldn’t reach the bottom of the pond but felt reeds near his toes. He floated along them, using them as a guide.

His body felt numb. There wasn’t time to think about which way to turn, he said. He became desperate as time passed, and with it the likelihood of the boy’s survival. He told KSL.com that he remembers calling out the boy’s name, though he knew the boy couldn’t hear him.

A person in near-frozen water has 10 minutes to get out before their muscles become too cold to function, according to Business Insider.

Suddenly, he felt the boy. He dove into the water and pulled his head above the surface. He turned toward shore.

“Just make it back to shore, just make it back,” he said to himself, KSL.com reported.

Officials estimate that the boy was in the cold water for about 30 minutes. Once on shore, an ambulance took him to Primary Children’s Hospital. Hospital officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The boy was still there, breathing but sedated, as of Tuesday afternoon, friends and family told KSL.com. The extent of his injuries aren’t clear. His dog survived, sheriff’s officials said.

Thompson told KSL.com that the boy was able to survive in part because of the cold water.

“That slows down their metabolism, all their body functions,” he told reporters. “And kind of forces the blood back into the main systems.”

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources advises those who fall through ice not to panic, and to turn toward the direction they came from, where ice is probably strongest. The person should place their hands and arms around the unbroken surface and kick their feet until they slide back onto solid ice. They should lie flat on the ice to distribute their body weight, which might prevent them from breaking the ice again. The department then suggests the person roll away from the hole.

For those rescuing those who have fallen through ice, the department suggests they refrain from running up to the edge of the hole. Instead, they should shout to the victim advice and encouragement for escaping the hole and, if possible, throw something toward them, such as a rope or a ladder. A light boat can also be used to safely reach a victim submerged in water.

Thompson, who could not be immediately reached for comment, was in the water for several minutes, rescue officials told KSL.com. He was taken to a hospital and treated for hypothermia and cuts. He suffered nerve damage, and needed stitches for a cut on the forearm he used to break through the ice. He was released from the hospital Monday, but said he couldn’t sleep that night.

“It’s not me, it’s us. I think that’s the real story here. I was just the one that went in the water,” he told reporters, according to KSL.com. “If there was a hero that night it’s us, it’s not me. I’m just the one that went in the water.”

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