Community effort pulls drowning boy from lake
Initially feared dead, victim is in critical condition
A 12-year-old boy from Newton was clinging to life Tuesday after a valiant 20-minute effort by Marion County Lake residents and staff rescued him from 8 to 10 feet of water Saturday at the lake’s swimming beach.
Volunteers and emergency workers involved in the rescue said the boy did not initially respond to resuscitation from emergency medical technicians at the scene.
However, with sustained CPR, a slow pulse returned either en route to or at St. Luke Hospital, and the boy was transferred by LifeTeam helicopter to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, where he was reported in critical condition Tuesday.
Lake Superintendent Steve Hudson and a Wichita man who has a trailer across from the beach had been working nearby to set up gazebo stage in preparation for next week’s Bluegrass at the Lake concert.
The Wichita man, who declined to give his full name, had been watching three youths, part of a group of about half a dozen on the beach, playing with a black dog in the water when one of the boys went under.
“The folks all spoke Spanish and couldn’t so much as yell ‘Help!’” said the trailer owner, who identified himself only as Mike. “I was yelling, ‘Call 911!’ and about that time, Steve Hudson pulled up, and he came running as fast as he could, yelling, ‘Call 911!’”
The initial call to Marion rescue, fire, ambulance and sheriff’s personnel came at 9:54 a.m. The first units were reported on the scene at 10:02 a.m. A news release issued later by the Marion County sheriff’s office said highway patrol and Kansas wildlife and park officers also responded.
Even before emergency crews arrived, Hudson, “Mike” and other lake visitors began diving in an attempt to locate the boy. As many as 12 people were searching for the boy, EMT Gene Winkler said.
“Steve and I and then Billy [another lake resident] went in where I had seen them playing,” Mike recalled. “We’d stay down and sweep the bottom with our hands, trying to find him.
“The lake is pretty clear, but without diving gear we couldn’t really see that deep and had to do it by feel.”
He estimated that the water was 8 to 10 feet deep and the water temperature at the time was 74 degrees.
“I was down there,” Mike said. “It wasn’t that much colder at the bottom.”
Marion County almost immediately requested assistance from an underwater search and rescue team from Butler County and received confirmation that the team was en route at 10:12 a.m.
One minute later, ambulance crews on the scene reported that the boy had been located and was being pulled from the water. Winkler estimated the boy was underwater 20 to 25 minutes.
“You just wonder how long is too long,” Winkler said. “If he comes back, good as ever, it would be wonderful.”
The four EMTs split duties attempting to resuscitate the boy. One performed chest compressions, another provided mouth-to-mouth breaths, another used a machine to suck water out of the boy’s mouth, and another coordinated efforts and made sure the others had necessary equipment, Winkler said.
Another lake resident, identified only as Billy, reportedly found the boy. Using a long rescue pole, Mike brought him to the surface. An off-duty Newton firefighter staying at the lake also was reported to have been involved in the rescue.
“We had a dragline and two poles going,” Mike said. “Once the sirens [including a beach siren] went off, everyone came running — about 10 or 12 of them: boaters off the lake, residents, everyone. Four or five individuals were diving. It was a real community effort.”
“Mike,” interviewed at the scene, declined to take any credit for his actions.
“Steve and his crew deserve all the credit,” he said.
Hudson, also interviewed at the scene, and again on Monday, said he was too shaken to comment. At the time of the initial interviews, neither he nor “Mike” was aware that the boy had been resuscitated.
After medical personnel initially were unable to resuscitate the boy, they canceled the LifeTeam helicopter at 10:18 a.m. However, at 10:23 a.m., EMTs reported that the boy had vomited, and that LifeTeam, which continued en route, would be needed. The helicopter arrived at St. Luke Hospital at 10:37 a.m.
“It just progressively got better for him,” Winkler said. “It isn’t very often you get this chance to save someone and make a difference. Everybody did a terrific job.”
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office would not release information on boy’s identity.
Last modified June 16, 2011