HURRICANE – Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Aaron Thompson is being called a hero after pulling an 8-year-old boy from an ice-covered pond in New Harmony Christmas Day. He, however, simply states he was the one who pulled the boy out of the water so waiting medics could tend to him.
After initially being treated at Dixie Regional Medical Center, the boy has since been taken to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City for care.
Thompson gave a personal account of the rescue during a press conference Tuesday at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Read more: New Harmony boy pulled from ice-covered pond
He was on patrol in Toquerville when the call came in around 5 p.m. concerning a possible drowning in the area of 3100 East and 2500 North in New Harmony. It was reported an 8-year-old boy had fallen through the ice covering a private pond while chasing a family dog.
Another boy who was there tried to help, but ultimately ran to the boy’s parents to tell them what had happened and they called 911.
When Thompson arrived at the scene, a woman told him she had seen the boy’s hand sticking out of the water just a few minutes before his arrival.
Drawing on his experience and knowledge as a former member of the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue dive team, Thompson said he had a good idea of what he was getting himself into with a water rescue. He also has experience diving under ice.
“I just made the decision I was going to go get him,” he said.
A paramedic who arrived after Thompson also intended to get in the water and help search for the boy, but Thompson told him to wait on shore unless it appeared he was in trouble and needed rescuing himself.
Thompson stripped off his police gear and walked onto the ice until he reached a spot where he would be up to his waist in water. He then broke the ice and started smashing a pathway through the ice with his fists and arms toward the spot where the woman had last seen the boy.
“As the ice got thicker … I had to jump on the top of the ice, put my weight on it and pound on it to get it to break. I knew time was of the essence,” Thompson said, adding that the boy had possibly been in the pond for around 30 minutes by then.
At one point Thompson asked the ambulance crew on the shore for a special tool to help break the ice. When they replied they didn’t have the tool, he kept smashing his way through until reaching a point he dove under the water.
While underwater, Thompson checked the visibility, surroundings and other factors. By then he was also up to his neck in water and his toes barely touching the bottom of the pond.
Thompson said he starting moving in a search pattern for the boy and hoped he would soon bump into him, which he did.
“Once I saw his face, I held his head above the water and I called to the paramedics, letting them know I’m coming in, that I’ve got him,” he said.
The boy had drifted to a point under the ice beyond the area Thompson had broken through.
Before finding the boy, Thompson said he was growing desperate and started calling out the boy’s name.
After handing the boy to the paramedics, Thompson said he went to his patrol car to get warm and assess his own condition. He had cuts and abrasions on his arms from smashing through the ice.
The boy was flown to Dixie Regional Medical Center by Intermountain Healthcare’s Life Flight helicopter while Thompson was transported by Gold Cross Ambulance. Doctors told him he had experienced nerve damage in his arms.
“I’ve seen his arms,” Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher said. “He used the soft tissue portions of his arms and fists as a sledge hammer to break through (the ice). What he’s not showing you is the bruising on his torso where he was jumping on the ice and busting it through on the thick parts.”
Thompson also received stitches in his hands and wasn’t quite up to accepting handshakes at the press conference.
Thompson estimated he was in the water for two to three minutes while searching for the boy, adding the clarity and chill of the water, which was around 35 degrees or so, actually aided in the boy’s coming out of the pond alive.
“The temperature in the water was huge in this case to help the boy’s recovery,” Thompson said. “The colder the water, the longer we have.”
The cold slows down body functions and forces the blood into the main systems of the body, Thompson said, adding there are documented cases of people being in ice-covered waters for up to an hour and surviving.
“That’s why they’re able to survive,” he said. “We’re really hopeful for this individual.”
Due to patient privacy laws, Thompson couldn’t directly comment on the boy’s condition, but said the family is also hopeful and optimistic for a recovery.
“My prayers and thoughts are with you,” Thompson said when asked if he had anything to say to the family.
As for being called a hero, Thompson gave credit to everyone involved.
From the paramedics who treated the boy to the firefighters at the scene who help treat him, to the dispatchers at the St. George Communications Center who had a calming effect in a time of emergency and the medical staff looking after the boy at the hospital – Thompson thanked them all.
“Everybody huddled around (the boy’s room at the hospital) to make sure that child has the best chance of success,” he said. “They’re the real heroes. I was just the guy that went into the water.”
Pulsipher, however, is calling it as he sees it.
“Bottom line is, he’s a freakin’ hero,” the sheriff said.
As for the dog the boy was chasing before falling through the ice, the Sheriff’s Office said it’s alive and well.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.