News Search


Columbus AFB Airmen save drowning man

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Daniel Lile
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Four Airmen from Columbus Air Force Base demonstrated the Air Force Core Value of Service Before Self when they attempted to save the lives of two drowning men who were caught in the Buttahatchee river in Caledonia Miss., on Memorial Day. They succeeded in reviving one of the men.

The Airmen included Staff Sgt. Joshua Keith, Airman 1st Class Kyle Carpenter, Senior Airman Ryan Werner and Staff Sgt. Alexander Gordy, 14th Operations Support Squadron.

"We were just enjoying ourselves at the river, and we heard someone screaming 'my kids, my kids' off in the distance," said Keith. "We stood up and looked and saw what we thought were two kids that were caught in the current. We saw two people jump in after them so we thought they were alright and sat back down. Then a couple seconds later we saw someone else jump in and one man struggling to get back to the bank. That's when we noticed there were three kids in the water not two, and realized that they needed our help."

The father of the children was one of the first to jump in the river quickly followed by the children's grandfather. The father was able to get the kids out of the current but not able to get out of the river himself.

"The last time I saw him, before we pulled him out, he was fighting the current with one hand up in the air," said Carpenter.

The four Airmen were not in the ideal location to dive in and save anyone who was struggling in the water. First they had to run downstream to the distressed swimmers and then swim across the river to get to where they thought they were.

"We had to run about 50 yards on rocks to get there, swim across about 50 yards of cross currents to get to them," said Werner.

When the Airmen got to the shoreline they immediately dove into the water, disregarding their own personal safety among the dangerous currents, in an attempt to save the father and the grandfather from drowning.

"We jumped into the water and swam to the drowning men," said Keith. "I grabbed the grandfather and tried to drag him upstream to the shore but the current was too strong, and 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 searching the murky waters, other good Samaritans were also assisting in the search. One bystander finally located the father and dragged him to the shoreline, but the father was not responsive.

"They pulled up the first guy who jumped in, the father of the kids," said Keith. "He was completely blue and was not breathing so I started CPR on him. While I was doing CPR on him, Carpenter showed up and held open his airway while Werner and Gordy continued searching for the grandfather."

Bystanders on the banks were helpful in spotting the struggling swimmers. While Keith was performing CPR on the father, a large crowd began to gather around the Airmen.

"When Keith started doing CPR everybody starting crowding around him so I tried to keep everyone back," said Carpenter. "As he was doing CPR the victim's brother was grabbing his foot screaming 'save him, save my brother!'"

The Airmen performed CPR for over four minutes before the father started responding.
"Carpenter kept telling me 'you got to push harder, you have to keep going!'" said Keith. "So I just kept going and finally out of nowhere his eyes opened and you could tell he knew what was going on and he was going to be OK."

While the father was finally becoming responsive from relentless CPR by Keith and Carpenter, Werner and Gordy were still battling the river currents trying to find the grandfather.

"Once they got the first guy out everybody kept focusing on him," said Gordy. "So Werner and I were the only two left in the water searching for the grandfather."

Werner and Gordy continued relentlessly searching for the grandfather by themselves.

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

Finally, after the Airmen had searched for four minutes with minimal visibility in the dark-brown water Gordy found the grandfather.

"We just continuously kept diving under-water and feeling for him on the bottom of the river," said Gordy. "We didn't have any visibility the water was brown and the current was rushing by me. I finally grabbed something that felt like a big wet pillow and tried to drag it to the surface."

Simply finding the grandfather on the bottom of the river was just half the challenge, now they were faced with the difficulty of getting him to the surface and the river bank.

"I started pulling him out and I probably got around eight feet with the current pulling him before I started running out of breath," said Gordy. "We kept diving down and coming up; it felt like a life-time."

The Airmen finally got the grandfather to the shoreline and prepared to conduct further CPR.

"Around the time they got the grandfather out of the water, the emergency responders arrived and we just backed off," said Keith. "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. However without the efforts of the four Airmen there could have been many more casualties.

The Airmen were described by both the family and witnesses as "physically fit young men who appeared to be in the military," said a family member of the victims. "I'm so thankful to those men. I'm so thankful; they did so much for me and my family," according to the West Alabama Gazette.