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AIRMEN SAVE DAD FROM DROWNING - Another dies in river ordeal

The Buttahatchee River in Caledonia, Miss., was the scene of a heroic rescue and a tragic drowning May 26. (U.S. Air photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarayuth Pinthong/Released/photo manipulation by David M. Stack)

The Buttahatchee River in Caledonia, Miss., was the scene of a heroic rescue and a tragic drowning May 26. (U.S. Air photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarayuth Pinthong/Released/photo manipulation by David M. Stack)

Staff Sgt. Alexander Gordy, Airman 1st Class Kyle Carpenter, Senior Airman Ryan Werner and Staff Sgt. Joshua Keith, 14th Operations Support Squadron, pose for a photo June 24 outside their place of work, the Radar Approach Control. The Airmen demonstrated the Air Force Core Value of Service Before Self by saving a drowning man, May 26, 2014, at the Buttahatchee river in Caledonia, Miss. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman John Day)

Standing outside of Radar Approach Control at Columbus AFB, Miss., where they work are heroes of the day (from left to right) Staff Sgt. Alexander Gordy, Airman 1st Class Kyle Carpenter, Senior Airman Ryan Werner and Staff Sgt. Joshua Keith, all of the 14th Operations Support Squadron. They helped save a man from drowning on Memorial Day. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman John Day)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Four Airmen from Columbus Air Force Base pulled two drowning men from the Buttahatchee River in Caledonia, Miss., on Memorial Day. They resuscitated one of the men; the other died.

Staff Sgts. Joshua Keith and Alexander Gordy and Senior AirmanRyan Werner and Airman 1st Class Kyle Carpenter, all of the 14th Operations Support Squadron, are being hailed as heroes for their actions that day. The Airmen were enjoying a day at the river when they heard a loud commotion downstream.

"We heard someone screaming, 'My kids! My kids!' " Keith said. "We saw what we thought were two kids caught in the current."

The Airmen witnessed two men jump in after the children and thought they had the situation under control. But seconds later they noticed there were actually three children in the water, and the men were struggling to save the kids and themselves.

"We realized they needed our help," Keith said.

The father of the children had been the first to jump to their rescue, quickly followed by their grandfather. The two men managed to push the kids out of the current, but they didn't have the strength left to pull themselves ashore.

"The (dad) was fighting the current with one hand up in the air," Carpenter said.

To get to the distressed swimmers, the Airmen had to run downstream and swim across the river.

"We (ran) about 50 yards on rocks to get there, (and then swam) across about 50 yards of crosscurrents," Werner said.

Even after that exhausting sprint and swim, the Airmen wasted no time diving back into the water to brave the dangerous currents and rescue the men.

"I grabbed the grandfather and tried to drag him upstream to the shore, but the current was too strong," Keith said. "I was swallowing water, so I had to let him go and catch my breath. When I got to the bank, two of my friends were already diving in and out of the water searching for the guy."

While the Airmen were still probing the murky waters, other good Samaritans assisted in the search. One bystander finally located the father and dragged him to the shoreline, but he was not responsive.

"He was completely blue and was not breathing, so I started CPR on him," Keith said.

While Keith performed CPR, Carpenter held open the victim's airway, and Werner and Gordy continued searching for the grandfather.

"As (Keith) was doing CPR the victim's brother was grabbing his foot screaming, 'Save him! Save my brother!' "

The Airmen performed CPR for more than four minutes before the victim started responding.

"Carpenter kept telling me, 'You got to push harder! You have to keep going!' " Keith said.

"So I just kept going. Finally, out of nowhere, his eyes opened."

While the father was finally becoming responsive, Werner and Gordy never stopped searching for the grandfather.

"We would dive under water, search the bottom and come back up for air," Werner said. "When I was coming up for a breath there was a tree limb there so I tried to hold onto it. Once I got some energy back, I would try to go back down and feel along the bottom with my hands."

With no visibility in the murky, brown water and fighting the relentless current, their task seemed hopeless.

But then ... a miracle.

During one of his blind searches, Gordy found the unresponsive grandfather on the bottom of the river.

"I grabbed (him) and tried to drag (him) to the surface," Gordy said. "I probably got around eight feet with the current (working against me) before I started running out of breath."

But they did not give up, and after several attempts, were finally able to drag the man to the shoreline.

"Around the time they got the grandfather out of the water, the emergency responders arrived," Keith said. "While they were performing
CPR, there were these little kids just sitting there watching. I assumed they were the grandchildren. So I got them in their car and gave them stuffed animals, trying to distract them."

Sadly, the grandfather passed away.

In an article released in the West Alabama Gazette, one of the victims' family members said, "I'm so thankful to those (Airmen). I'm so thankful; they did so much for me and my family."