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HURRICANE, Washington County — When Washington County Sheriff's Sgt. Aaron Thompson arrived at a pond where an 8-year-old boy had fallen through the ice, he knew what he needed to do without hesitation.
"I just made the decision I was going to go get him,” Thompson said. "I knew what I was getting into. I knew how cold that ice would be. I’ve dove under the water before. I knew about how much time I had in there … I knew exactly what I was getting into when I got into that water."
During a news conference at the sheriff's office Tuesday, Thompson recounted his heroic story of diving into the icy water, finding the boy by using his hands and arms to pound through the ice, and pulling him out to shore. As of Tuesday afternoon, the boy, whose name has not been released, remained at Primary Children's Hospital under sedation, according to police.
The incident happened about 5 p.m. on Christmas Day when the boy chased his dog onto a frozen pond near New Harmony. About 25 feet from shore, the boy fell through the ice, according to police.
Thompson, who is a former lieutenant for the sheriff department's dive team, was one of the first to arrive on scene. Initially, it was reported that two children had fallen into the water, he said.
A woman who was on the shore said she last saw the boy's hand sticking out of the water about four minutes earlier, Thompson said. Based on that, he said, he had to act quickly.
Knowing that paramedics were standing by to rescue him if he also got into trouble, Thompson walked out onto the pond for a few feet before stomping on the ice and going in. The hole in frozen pond where the boy had fallen in was fairly large when emergency crews arrived, giving Thompson a wide area to search.
Once he was in the water, Thompson started using his fists to break through the ice to get to where the boy was believed to be.
"As the ice got thicker, I couldn’t break it with my arms and my fists anymore. So I had to jump up on top of the ice to put my weight on it and pound on it to get it to break,” he said.
The water got deep enough that Thompson couldn't touch the bottom. But there were reeds that he could feel with his toes. Thompson said he floated with water up to his neck as he stretched his toes to follow the reeds, knowing he would eventually bump into the boy.
At that point he said the adrenaline had taken over.
"Really, I couldn’t feel anything. I didn’t notice anything when I was doing it. I knew time was of the essence. I had a very short window to get that child out of the water,” he said.
But after a few minutes of searching and not finding him, Thompson conceded, "I was getting desperate."
Thompson choked up as he admitted Tuesday that he even began calling out to the boy.
Finally, he felt the boy, who was beyond the area of the pond that was broken out, he said. Thompson dove down in the water and pulled the boy's head above the surface and started heading back to shore.
"Relief" was going through his mind at that point, he said. "Just make it back to shore, just make it back."
I knew time was of the essence. I had a very short window to get that child out of the water.
–Sgt. Aaron Thompson
Once on shore, the boy was immediately loaded into an ambulance and a Life Flight helicopter was standing by. Thompson said he then went to sit in his patrol car to assess his own injuries.
"I knew I was not in good shape," he said.
Thompson was taken to a local hospital where he was treated for cuts and hypothermia. On Tuesday, he showed the stitches and cuts on his forearms from breaking through the ice.
He was released from the hospital Monday night, but once he got home, he said, it was a "sleepless night." Thompson suffered nerve damage and couldn't feel two of his fingers Monday night.
Officials estimated that the boy was in the water for about 30 minutes and Thompson for several minutes. He said the cold water worked in the boy's favor.
"The temperature of the water was huge in this case to help that boy recover. The colder it is, the longer we have (to find him)," he said.
Word of the dramatic rescue has spread to news stations across the nation. But Thompson doesn't believe all the attention should be on him, and he doesn't believe he should be be called a "hero."
"It’s not me, it’s us. I think that’s the real story here. I was just the one that went in the water,” he said humbly, while pointing to the work done by police dispatchers, paramedics and doctors at the hospital. "If there was a hero that night it’s us, it’s not me. I’m just the one that went in the water."
The sheriff's office also said that the dog the boy chased onto the ice also survived.
Contributing: Alex Cabrero