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PAGE, Arizona — Even though she had been underwater for several minutes and had either lost consciousness or was about to, a Colorado mother clung onto her 2-year-old son and held his head above water until he could be rescued.
But while Chelsea Russell was able to heroically save her son, she tragically could not be revived.
Russell, 33, of Lakewood, Colorado, died Tuesday after jumping into Lake Powell to save her 2-year-old son who had fallen off a houseboat. As Russell held onto her son, her brother got into a runabout boat and hurried out to them.
"And as he gets to them the mother is under the water holding the baby up, and he grabs the 2-year-old and pulls him in the boat. And by the time he grabs the mother and gets her into the boat, she has swallowed a bunch of water and is unconscious," said San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge. "She was still, for whatever reason, able to hold the baby out of the water."
The tragic incident happened Tuesday as Russell and a large group of family members were trolling their house boat to Halls Crossing, Eldredge said. Russell's son was playing on top of the boat with other children when, for an unknown reason, he fell over the edge. He was not wearing a life jacket.
Russell dove into the water after him and got to her son. Officials estimate she had been under the water for several minutes before she was pulled into the rescue boat, Eldredge said.
"(The son) was on top of her above the water, she was just underneath the water," he said.
Russell was unresponsive when she was pulled into the boat. Emergency crews performed CPR for an estimated 30 minutes before pronouncing her dead, he said.
Her son was flown to a hospital in Flagstaff, Arizona, as a precaution. He has since been released.
“There are no words to convey the tragedy of losing a loved one like this,” said Teri Tucker, acting superintendent for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. “Our hearts are with the family and friends of the victims during this time of unexpected pain and loss."
Russell's death marks the sixth fatality at Glen Canyon in 2016. Both park officials and Eldredge encouraged all people to wear life jackets while on the water.
"Anytime you're on the water, children and adults really should just be wearing life jackets. You never know when you're going to slip and hit your head. Anytime you're around water, the safest thing to do is just to wear a life jacket," Eldredge said.
“A common denominator in more than 120 fatalities at Lake Powell in the last decades is that victims were not wearing life jackets, said Meri Sias, acting chief ranger at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.” While life jackets are required for children 12 years of age and under, all boaters on Lake Powell are encouraged to wear life jackets."
The incident also marked the third time this month that an adult drowned while trying to save a child.
• Ismael Segundo, 34, was fishing with his girlfriend and her two children at East Canyon Reservoir on Aug. 13 when one child went into the water. Everyone went into the water to help. The woman and her two children were able swim back to shore. Segundo was not.
• A South Jordan elementary school teacher and her 11-year-old daughter drowned in Bear Lake on Aug. 3 while saving an 8-year-old relative. Jennifer Lambourne, 37, and her daughter, Brooklyn Mae Lambourne, 11, died during a family outing after going under the water in the Fish Haven area of the lake on the Idaho side of the border. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam