LEWISTON, Maine — Andrew Bilodeau, 14, spotted the bluish lips and nose poking through the surface of the Androscoggin River.
He waded in, up to his waist, his feet sliding on rocks. He wrapped his arms around the 7-year-old boy’s belly and pulled him toward the riverbank.
“I was a little scared, a little panicked,” Bilodeau said Monday, recalling the events of July 3.
Bilodeau dragged the boy’s limp body a couple of feet up the bank, his feet slipping on mud.
He heard his father shouting instructions to turn the boy’s body upside down to help drain the water from his lungs.
But when Bilodeau did so, nothing came out.
He pulled the boy farther up the slope, about 10 feet to the chain-link fence that the boy and two friends had wiggled under minutes earlier so they could throw stones in the river.
Bilodeau’s dad, Rene Bilodeau Jr., was waiting on the other side of the fence to help pull the boy onto the level lawn. There, the elder Bilodeau rolled the boy on his side and checked his airway.
The father of one of the boy’s friends arrived and began to press on his chest. Within seconds, the boy vomited water. Within minutes, he had vomited twice more, bringing up about a quart of river water, Rene Bilodeau said.
An ambulance arrived and took the boy to a local hospital, then on to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he was treated and later released.
“There’s no doubt in my mind this little kid would have drowned if this other kid hadn’t jumped into harm’s way,” police Deputy Chief James Minkowsky said Monday. “No doubt in my mind.”
Rene Bilodeau Jr. said he was checking on his tomato plants on the back deck of the apartment building on River Street, just after lunch. The deck overlooks the river, which was swollen from days of rain.
Bilodeau said he heard the boys’ shouts as they ran from the river, yelling that their friend was drowning.
He turned to his son, who had just finished lunch, and said, “Go get him.”
Bilodeau called 911.
Andrew Bilodeau darted from the deck down the lawn to the fence, squirmed under it and searched the water for the boy.
At first, he could see only pieces of trash floating past.
Then he glimpsed the boy’s discolored nose and mouth, which was open and filled with water.
“I thought he was dead, because he wasn’t moving at all,” Andrew Bilodeau said Monday. “I thought he was dead.”
Later, when he saw the boy vomiting water, Bilodeau said he was relieved to know that meant the boy would live, he said.
Minkowsky said police plan to hold a recognition ceremony to celebrate Bilodeau’s actions.
“We’re lucky on a couple of levels,” Minkowsky said. First, despite strong currents due to the rising river, the boy’s body hadn’t been swept away.
More important, Minkowsky said, “was that this teenager had the wherewithal . . . to take immediate action. This kid, I think, was pretty selfless as far as going in and putting himself at risk to save this little kid, and apparently did a fantastic job.”