Dayton Fire district chief praises bystanders for rescuing 2 children from Mad River

RIVERSIDE — UPDATE: Bystanders, who turned out are members of the Air Force, are being credited with rescuing two children from the Mad River in Riverside on Thursday night, in an incident initially dispatched as a possible drowning.

Dayton and Riverside fire crews arrived at Eastwood MetroPark on Harshman Road to find one of the children with three rescuers, all of them standing in the middle of the river’s kayak feature, and the other child on the riverbank with another of the rescuers who had pulled that child out of the water, Dayton Fire District Chief David Wright told News Center 7′s Brandon Lewis.

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The two children, believed to be in the range of 8 to 9 years old, were in a kayak, close to the riverbank, that tipped over and sent them into the swirl of deeper water, Wright said.

They were not wearing life jackets.

“Fortunately, there were several bystanders that went in to get them. . . . The bystanders worked really well together,” the district chief said.

One of them remained on the riverbank and spotted the children because these things tend to swirl and pull them under, he said. At one point, the children did get pulled under.

“The spotters were able to watch them from high on the bank and direct the swimmers to go get them, Wright said.

The spotters were fellow Air Force officers, friends of Martin Gilligan, himself a member of the Air Force who moved to Dayton about a year ago. They were at the park attending a promotion ceremony for a first lieutenant, Gilligan said.

“Thank God that we were here, because I think this kid would have died because he wasn’t wearing a life vest,” Gilligan told News Center 7′s Lewis. Gilligan said something wasn’t right about the paddle and empty raft he saw floating down the river. Then he heard one of the children yelling for the other child, who was chest up in the water doing circles in the whirlpool area of the river.

Gilligan said he unbuttoned his shirt, all the while thinking, “is this really happening?” He said he put his head down, swam as fast as he could, and relied on the CPR training he received in the Air Force and as a Boy Scout to revive the child with one breath.

He won’t call himself a hero, saying what he did was not about heroism.

“This was kind of a life-or-death situation. . . . I’m at a loss for words.”

The Dayton Fire crew put an inflatable on the water to go and get the three rescuers and that other child off the kayak feature.

Wright said there were no injuries, although the children and a man identified as the dad to one of the children were taken to hospitals as a precaution.

Wright called the outcome “fantastic” and warned everyone to stay out of the river.

“We’ve lost quite a number of adults and children at this feature over the years,” Wright said of the Mad River kayak area. “This is a very dangerous place to go into the water if you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t have a life jacket on.”

“It’s very nice to have heard that everyone was safe when we arrived and in a safe location,” the district chief said. “We just needed to get them back over to shore.”

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