River Rescue: For 3rd Time, Salt Lake City Strangers Step Up

PHOTO: A photo provided by Chris Willden shows a car in the Logan River, Utah, after the car was flipped upright by rescuers who saved three children trapped in the car Dec. 31, 2011.
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This weekend, Utah's Salt Lake City area upped its ranking as one of the nicest places on Earth after a dramatic rescue by people who just happened to be passing by.

On New Year's Eve, a group of nearly 10 strangers saved three children trapped in a car that had plunged into the Logan River. The driver had been trying to brake on a slick road and lost control.

Watch "World News" tonight for more on this story.

It was the third incident in nearly six months where passersby had stopped to help someone in danger.

In September, college student Brandon Wright was driving his motorcycle in Logan, Utah, when a car pulled out in front of him. The 21-year-old's bike hit the car's hood and became trapped underneath it with Wright still holding on. Both vehicles then burst into flames.

A crowd of eight or nine people, including construction workers and students from Utah State University, lifted the burning car and pulled Wright out.

"They should get used to being called heroes because that's what they are," Wright said during a hospital news conference in September. "They restored my faith in humanity."

Police Officer Consoles Bus Victim

And in December, when a Utah Transit Authority bus hit Aryann Smith in a crosswalk, leaving the 24-year-old pinned underneath, a West Valley City police officer consoled the badly injured woman by holding her hand and giving her words of encouragement.

According to Salt Lake City's Deseret News, Officer Kevin Peck crawled under the bus and held Smith's hand until the vehicle was lifted and she was pulled out. Though Smith's legs were badly injured, she was not expected to lose them.

"She asked me not to leave. So I said I would just stay under there with her until we got her out. ... She was afraid she was going to die," he told the newspaper. "I'm just praying and hoping for some reason the bus doesn't move. ... Just trying to reassure her and keep her calm."

Philip Zimbardo, president of the Heroic Imagination Project, said that heroes were special, yet ordinary people.

"They are willing to put their best selves forward in service to humanity, to risk their life and limb -- and sometimes career -- to help others and in many cases people they don't even know," he said. "For me, heroes represent an ideal that we all want to strive for."

In the latest act of random kindness from rescuers, this Saturday, Roger Andersen, 46, was driving northbound on U.S. 89 in a Honda Accord when he tried to brake and lost control. His car slid down a 10-foot embankment and flipped over. His daughter and another girl, both 9, and his son, 4, were trapped in the car.

Chris Willden, with three children of his own, and his father were among several men who made their way down the embankment into the water.

"I jumped out of the car, jumped into the river next to the children's father and started helping him trying to get into the vehicle," said Willden, a Defense Department contractor who eventually shot out one of the car's window and helped remove a girl from a seat belt. "I tried pulling on the door handles and none of them would open up."

"I didn't think they were going to be around for the new year," he told The Associated Press.

Though they were lifeless after rescuers pulled them from the car, the boy and his sister were reportedly treated for hypothermia at Primary Children's Medical Center and later released. The father and the other girl were not injured, authorities said.

"The Utah story should be a wonderful New Year's eve present to all of us," Zimbardo told ABC News today. "It's not simply that a single person sees this potential tragedy and decides to risk his or her life, but that everyone in that setting who saw the same thing, all acted nobly, heroically."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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