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LOGAN — Good Samaritans are undoubtedly the reason three children who were trapped in a car submerged in the Logan River are alive to experience the New Year.
Around 12:30 p.m. a 46-year-old man driving a Honda Accord in Logan Canyon braked to avoid another crash on the snowy, slick road. The car slid down a 10-foot embankment and overturned in the river, according to Utah Highway patrol. The driver was able to free himself, but his 9-year-old daughter, 4-year-old son and a 9-year-old friend were trapped.
"We came around a turn and then...we looked under the bridge and we saw a car upside down in the water," said Chris Willden, who was driving down the canyon with his family. Willden said he and his father were the first of about eight men who jumped into the icy water to try to free the children.
"He was pretty frantic," Willden said of the driver, who was yelling for help. "Once we heard 'kids', it kind of changed things a little bit."
Willden tried to open a window or door, but neither would budge. So he took out his handgun and shot out a window. By that time, other men had arrived and they all worked to prop up the car while others grabbed for the kids.
One of the girls had found an air pocket and was breathing fine, but couldn't free herself from her seat belt so Willden cut it with a knife and pulled her from the rear passenger window. The other girl and boy were "grey" he said, and his heart sank.
"When we pulled that little boy out and that second little girl, I didn't think they were going to be around for New Year," he said.
Buzzy Mullahkel of North Logan was on the embankment and helped pull the little boy, who was not conscious or breathing, from the water. Other rescuers were attending to one of the little girls.
"I put my fingers on his neck and I couldn't feel a pulse — even a faint pulse," Mullahkel said. That's when another man at the scene ran over and began CPR.
"He took him from there and I just tried to get out of his way," Mullahkel said. "Emotions started taking over when he started to breathe." Mullahkel has a four-year-old himself, and could tell from the boy's weight as he carried him that they were about the same age.
"Everybody started to cheer," he said. "Lots of tears and clapping."
Willden, who is a contractor with the Department of Defense with a background in law enforcement, said the rescue effort took about three minutes in its entirety.
The two girls suffered hypothermia, but all three are expected to make a full recovery.
They were taken by a private car partway down the canyon before they were transferred to an ambulance and taken to Logan Regional Hospital. The driver's son and daughter were then flown by air ambulance to Primary Children's Medical Center.
Mullahkel said the scene reminded him of another Logan heroic rescue effort that made national headlines when bystanders lifted a burning car of an injured motorist earlier this year.
"It was eerily similar," he said.
It's a scene that will likely replay over and over again in his mind.
"Those men in the river just even now blow my mind," Mullahkel said. "Look at these gentleman, these men in this river in the middle of winter."
(Pictures courtesy Marci Bingham and Dustin Hawkes via KSL's iWitness)