The parents of the three children rescued from an icy river in Utah on Saturday said they are still struggling to find the words to thank the team of strangers who waded into the river to help.
“There aren’t words to express my gratitude to them,” Mindy Andersen said today on “Good Morning America.” “I appreciate it so much. They saved my children’s lives.”
Andersen’s husband, Roger, was driving the couple’s two children, 9-year-old daughter Mia and 4-year-old son Baylor, and family friend, 9-year-old Kenya Wildman, to a ski resort near Logan Canyon when he lost control of his Honda Accord along a curvy canyon road.
The car slid down a 10-foot embankment and flipped over, eventually sliding into an icy river where it quickly became submerged in gushing waters, 3-feet deep.
Anderson was able to unlatch his seat belt and move in the car, but found himself unable to help the children.
“Within 30 seconds, I would say, of the car going into the river and flipping over, I was able to get freed from the car and try to get the child loose in the front seat with me freed,” Roger Andersen, 46, of Logan, Utah, said today on “GMA.”
“I think I was disoriented from the crash and couldn’t really locate her,” he said. “I decided I needed to get air, so I saw the driver’s side window had been knocked out, so I went out and was in about three feet of water. I could quickly see that the vehicle was completely submerged in water.”
As Andersen surfaced, still unsure of how the children would survive, he saw a team of bystanders rushing towards him, right into the river.
“Within seconds there were probably eight individuals on the bank of the river and they were coming in really fast to help us,” he told “GMA.”
One of those eight individuals, all strangers to Andersen and his family, was Chris Willden, a former police officer who happened to be driving by and saw the accident.
“I heard…screaming something about ‘my kids, my kids’ and that’s when I realized there were people still trapped inside the vehicle,” Willden said on “GMA,” in an appearance that marked the first time the Andersens had reunited with the man they credit with saving the lives of their kids.
“I jumped out of the car, ran around, jumped into the river next to the children’s father started helping him try and get into the vehicle, he said.
Willden shot out one of the car’s windows with his handgun to reach the children, but prepared himself for the worst after he reached out for the children, and felt nothing.
“Once I reached up inside the vehicle and couldn’t feel any arms or legs or clothing to grab onto, I remember telling myself, ‘Get ready to see something you don’t want to see,’” he said.
With that, Willden and Andersen, who had stayed in the river to try to free his kids, were joined in the frigid water by the other witnesses, who by this time numbered near one dozen, and flipped the car upright.
Four minutes later, all three of the children were brought to safety, on dry land.
“We’re just so grateful for their ability to just act swiftly and decisively and really just step up when the moment was there in front of them,” Roger Andersen said of Willden and the other rescuers.
The Andersen’s two children were flown to a hospital in Salt Lake City, treated for hypothermia and released on Monday. The family friend also was treated and released.
“They’re doing very well,” Roger Andersen said today. “We just couldn’t be more grateful for the great rescue efforts of so many citizen bystanders there at the scene of the accident.”
“We really owe our children’s lives and the life of our neighbor friend Kenya to those great people,” he said.