SALT LAKE CITY – Former police officer Chris Willden didn't hesitate when he realized children were trapped in an upside down car in an icy Utah river. He pulled his handgun, pushed it up against the submerged windows and shot out the glass.
Then he reached inside.
"I was trying to grab arms, but I couldn't feel anything," Willden said. "I'm thinking ... what are we going to do?"'
But he turned to see up to eight other passers-by had scrambled down the embankment to help after coming upon the accident along U.S. 89 in Logan Canyon on Saturday afternoon.
Highway Patrol Lt. Steve Winward said that after shooting out a window, the rescuer cut a seatbelt to free one child. He said the rescuers helped turn the Honda Accord upright in the Logan River.
They lifted the Honda Accord enough to free the three trapped children.
The driver, Roger Andersen, 46, of Logan, had lost control of the car as he tried to brake while heading northbound in slippery conditions. His 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son were trapped along with a second 9-year-old girl.
"(The driver) was panicked, doing everything he could to get in through the doors, but they wouldn't budge," said Willden, who had jumped into the water with his own father.
"I remember thinking to myself, `You're going to see some dead kids, get ready. I've got three of my own and it was going to be (an awful) start to the New Year."
Willden, who jumped into the water with his father, said he tried unsuccessfully to open windows and doors. He then used his firearm just as he had done in training for his current job as a bodyguard and Department of Defense contractor.
One of the girls had found an air pocket and was breathing fine but was trapped in her seat belt. Willden cut it with a pocket knife and pulled her from the rear passenger window.
He said the other two children were lifeless, the boy upside down in his car seat and the second girl floating in the front passenger compartment. Both were pulled from the vehicle.
Buzzy Mullahkel of North Logan told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City that the boy wasn't breathing and didn't have a pulse but was revived when another passer-by performed CPR.
"Emotions started taking over when he started to breathe. Everybody started to cheer. Lots of tears and clapping," said Mullahkel, a father of a 4-year-old.
Willden, 35 of Ogden, was wrapping up his bleeding forearms cut by the broken window when he heard cheers.
"That was awesome," he said. "I knew that's where the little boy was."
He would later learn both the boy and his sister, who were flown by air ambulance to Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, had survived.
Bonnie Midget, a hospital spokeswoman, said Sunday both are doing well after spending the night in intensive care. They were taken out of intensive care Sunday but still in the hospital, listed in fair condition as they recover from hypothermia.
Winward said the father and the second girl escaped injury.
Mullahkel said the scene reminded him of another heroic rescue in Logan earlier this year. In that case, bystanders lifted a burning car off an injured motorcyclist and pulled him to safety. The motorcyclist survived and is recovering from his injuries.
"It was eerily similar," Mullahkel told the Deseret News. "Those men in the river just even now blow my mind. Look at these gentlemen, these men in this river in the middle of winter."
Willden said simply there was a mission to be accomplished.
He noted that both he and his father are both former military/civilian police officers, while his sister and mother are emergency medical technicians.
"It's in our family to go out and help others," he said.