Water can be one of the most treacherous elements for a number of reasons.
When accidents happen, water works in multiple ways to pose a risk; not only can the water itself result in drowning from lack of oxygen, but a current can sweep someone away before they’re able to get to shore.
These risks were exactly what almost took the life of not one, but two innocent victims one frigid night in Detroit.
While crossing the Detroit River one evening, a pair of Detroit police officers came across a man lying flat along the edge of the bridge, holding on to what looked like a jacket of some sort.
Concerned by the bizarre behavior, the pair—Officers Brian Gadwell and Steven Rauser—went over to investigate.
What they discovered would result in one of the most terrifying and trying nights of their careers.
It turned out that the man was lying down in order to preserve as much energy as he could, while holding on to the jacket for dear life—so that a woman, clinging to the other end of the jacket by her teeth in the river—wouldn’t get swept away.
With estimates that the water temps were around 49 degrees Fahrenheit that night, Officer Gadwell didn’t waste much time trying to survey the situation. He quickly jumped into the water, grabbing at the nearest solid object he could find on the bridge to protect his own life and then grabbing the struggling woman with his legs.
“I jumped in,” Gadwell would recount later, wrapping his legs around her while grabbing a bar on the bridge near the pair.
Although he provided a bit of reprieve for the woman, the danger was far from over. Between the near-freezing water temperatures and the power of the current, Gadwell knew his arms weren’t going to last long trying to hold both himself and the victim to the bridge.
“It was bad. I’ve never felt nothing like that in my life. I started losing feeling in my hands and my hands stopped working,” he told Detroit News. “I thought I was going to die, to be honest with you. I was like, ‘I’m done.’ I was yelling at them, ‘you guys better do something, I can’t hang on.’ ”
That’s when he called for help from Officer Rauser, who was still up on the bridge with the first man trying to come up with a solution.
“He started telling me he was failing,” Rauser remembered, pointing out that if Gadwell’s arms failed the woman would possibly lose her last hope at survival. She was, as he put it, “definitely fighting for her life”—but he needed to act fast if she had a chance at success.
That’s when he made the decision to jump in with the other two.
Although Gadwell and Rauser weren’t aware at the time, they were saving more than one life with their daring rescue. It turned out that the woman, whose circumstances that led to her struggling to survive in the river are still unknown, was pregnant—and while she was in dire condition, she was still doing her best to keep herself alive to protect her unborn son.
Rauser’s initial hope had been to use his still-energized arms to lift the woman and Gadwell to safety, but he quickly realized that the only thing he was in power to do was take the woman from his partner and hold on until help arrived.
Luckily, a boat came along before too much longer and rescued the trio. Gadwell and Rauser were treated for hypothermia, while the woman—who was in critical condition along with her unborn son—was transported to the hospital for an emergency C-section.
Both she and her son survived, thanks to the selfless actions of the police officers that found her that cold night.
Recounting the events later, Gadwell said that the woman had told him she loved him when he first jumped in to get her.
His response? “I told her I loved her too,” he said. “Or else I wouldn’t be in here with you”.
Gadwell truly thought he was going to die as the waters numbed his limbs and his arms got weaker. Luckily, Rauser was equally determined to see the trauma through to a happy ending—and from their combined efforts, no one was swept away.