In Moment of Crisis, River Hero Took the Plunge

Ingels was standing on a ledge yards away from where Kroonenberg was struggling, but he couldn't reach her. The fast current had formed a whirlpool, pulling her back under the falls.

"Water was going over my head," Kroonenberg said. "I was swallowing water and I just started thinking, I don't know how much water I can swallow. And I was kind of hopeless at that point."

From the cliffs above, Burns saw Kroonenberg in trouble. Minutes before, he had backed away from the highest ledge. Now, without hesitation, he jumped back into the whirlpool.

"I really, really remember because, it's the last thing he ever said," Kroonenberg said. "He said, 'Grab onto my arm tight and don't let go. I'm gonna get you outta here.'

"And I felt so safe."

"He was able to fight her back through the current to me," Ingels said. "I grabbed her and pulled her out to the side of me. And then at that point I turned to go and reach for him and he had been sucked back into the back of the hole."

In water so cold, every second steals your strength. Burns' friends held out a stick for him to grab, but it was just beyond his reach.

River Hero: He Didn't Want Us to See

"And he pushed off the wall twice, and he just didn't have enough strength," Ingels said. "His body had gotten too cold at that point.

"He started facing that wall and he didn't look at us. I think he realized that he wasn't making it out of there and he didn't want us to have to see it."

The current eventually washed Burns' body over a waterfall, and into the arms of his friends.

"We had him in the sun," Ingels said. "And I started doing CPR on him the best I knew how."

Megan Voorhorst said, "I laid on top of him to try to give him some body heat, and Kristen [Kroonenberg] was rubbing his feet. All of us were screaming at him, telling him, 'Talk to us.'"

"Aaron [Ingels] asked me to look for a pulse," Kroonenberg said. "I couldn't feel one."

"And I am screaming at Aaron, I was screaming at everybody," Bailey Roberts said. "I couldn't, from my position, do anything ... that's why I had to go get help."

Roberts ran up out of the canyon to the nearest farmhouse to call for help. Tape of the 911 call captures the desperation of the moment.

"911, what's your emergency?"

"My friend is drowning. He's drowning," Roberts said.

"Where's he at?"

"At the Potholes."

"Is he conscious?"

"No."

"Is he breathing?"

"[crying] Barely. And he's purple."

Back at the Potholes, Burns was hardly moving.

Kroonenberg remembered the moment she realized Burns was gone.

"He looked really peaceful," she said. "And that's when I thought he's not gonna make it. They had done CPR for so long."

By then, rescue teams had arrived, but there was little they could do except console Burns' friends, and carry his body out of the canyon.

"What us five experienced that day with him, nobody else experienced that," Ingels said. "Nobody else can imagine that. And we'll forever have to stick together just because of that."

In the year since Burns died, the bonds between the five friends have grown stronger, forged in grief, guilt and the love of a dear friend.

Where Stevie Burns Became a Hero

"He was so generous and would do anything for anybody, and was just the best friend anybody could ever ask for," Roberts said, crying.

Voorhorst agreed.

"He was one of those guys that always gave me butterflies, and that's why I was so drawn to him," she said. "Stevie showed me what kind of guy I need in my life."

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