Father: Thankful for passers-by who saved children

Associated Press
This photo provided by Chris Willden shows a car in the Logan River in Utah Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, after it was flipped upright by rescuers who saved three children trapped inside.  The car had plunged off an embankment into the river and Willden shot out the car's window with a handgun and cut a seat belt to help free the children after the accident. (AP Photo/Chris Willden)
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LOGAN, Utah (AP) — Roger Andersen thought it was over.

The 46-year-old lost control of his car this weekend on a winding Utah canyon road and slid into an icy river, trapping his 9-year-old daughter Mia and 4-year-old son Baylor, along with their friend, 9-year-old Kenya Wildman. The car flipped upside-down and quickly became submerged.

"The first thought was, 'So this is it how it ends," Andersen said while choking back tears Monday. "This could very easily have been a funeral for four of us."

But it wasn't, thanks to a handful of passers-by who stopped and within seconds, jumped into the frigid river to help.

"I was amazed at the people and the readiness of people to jump in and help," Anderson said at a news conference in Logan, about 80 miles north of Salt Lake City. "Without hesitation, they just did what they had to do ... And that ... for our family, made all the difference."

Andersen said they were on their way to a ski resort Saturday when the accident happened on a road they've traveled hundreds of times. The road didn't appear icy, at first, but as they made their way up the canyon, it got slicker so he slowed.

But just one tap on the brakes was all it took.

"In a second, I was completely off the road and sliding down the embankment," he said. "Within a second, the entire cabin of the vehicle was full of water."

He struggled to free the children from their seatbelts, but couldn't get them loose, and he had to breathe.

"I decided the best thing was to get out of the car and get air," he said. "In no less than 10 seconds, there were a half-dozen men standing on the banks of the river, and they're questions to me were, 'Who else was in the car?'

"Within five seconds, there were eight men in the river ... ready to assist," he added.

The rescuers pulled the children one-by-one from the car and passed them up the river bank to others, where some performed CPR on two of them — his children. They were unconscious and not breathing.

They all loaded up into a friend's SUV and sped down the mountain for help, but were met about halfway by paramedics, Andersen said. His two children were flown to a hospital in Salt Lake City, treated for hypothermia and released on Monday. The family friend also was treated and released.

"In a matter of a couple of days, now Baylor is running around just like nothing ever happened to him, and Mia is fine and Kenya is also fine," he said. "It's a story to me that is inspiring in many ways."

He said he will now learn more about how to help others.

"I need to do more so I can be at that level where I can step in and help people," Andersen said.

Kenya's father, Dennis Wildman, called it "a great story about the human spirit and our desire to help others."

He said the bystanders who didn't hesitate to help "literally brought our children home to us."

"We just want to say thank you," he said.

Former police officer Chris Willden was among the first on the scene. He said he shot out one of the car's window with his pistol to reach the trapped kids.

"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 at least eight other people had scrambled down the 10-foot embankment along U.S. 89 to help.

"I remember thinking to myself, 'You're going to see some dead kids, get ready,'" Willden said. "I've got three of my own and it was going to be (an awful) start to the New Year."

One of the girls had found an air pocket but was trapped by her seat belt. Willden cut it with a pocket knife and pulled her from the rear passenger window. The two other children soon followed.

Roger Andersen's wife, Mindy, fought to keep from crying Monday as she thanked the bystanders for saving the children's lives.

"Hero," she said, "is not even big enough for what they did."

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Associated Press writer Brian Skoloff in Salt Lake City contributed to this report. Foy also reported from Salt Lake City.

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