Local Passerby Plays Critical Role in Sunday's Water Rescue - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Local Passerby Plays Critical Role in Sunday's Water Rescue

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It was just like the scene of a movie. Facondo Hernandez clings for life out of the window of his car, while freezing cold water rushes around him. It was just like the scene of a movie. Facondo Hernandez clings for life out of the window of his car, while freezing cold water rushes around him.

YAKIMA, WA - It was just like the scene of a movie. Facondo Hernandez clings for life out of the window of his car, while freezing cold water rushes around him.

"It's just crazy," Art Gonzalez said. "I've never seen this in my life, it's just like he's scared right now. He's in shock"

Search and rescue could not just grab Hernandez without endangering themselves and time was running out. The water in the Yakima River is fresh from the Cascades and is a chilly 42 degrees. An interpreter tries to calm Hernandez as he screams for help. The Yakima County Boat Team got in position to perform a difficult rescue.

"Right now we're at high water levels," Dpt. Scot Swallow, boat driver during the rescue, said. "It was getting dark, you need to be able to read the river."

Deputy Swallow had to get close enough for the deputy onboard to grab Hernandez but make sure to not hit him with the boat. All this in rushing water with a strong current.

Finally, the man is lifted onto the boat and brought to shore where paramedics immediately wrap him in towels and bring him to the hospital for hypothermia treatment.

Being trapped in that car for 15 or 20 minutes and your muscles start to get numb, hypothermia starts to set in. This entire operation was done in under an hour and officials say one local man was critical to the rescue.

Art Gonzalez spoted the white car from the Donald Wapato Bridge on his way to drop off his grandchildren. He was the first to call 9-1-1, but what he did afterward was the most important.

"He didn't just call it in and leave," Sgt. Chad Peterschick said. "He came down to the shoreline and continued to keep the man calm and communicate with him throughout the whole time we were here."

"I just kept telling him 'calma', 'calma', which is just calm down, calm down," Gonzalez said. "There are people who are going to help you, they're going to get a boat, there's a lot of people ready to help you."

It is unclear exactly how this happened. Less than 100 yards away, tire tracks can still be seen Monday afternoon showing that the car swerved off a dirt road and into the water. The Sheriff's Office says the car is dangerously far into the river. So for the now, the curtain for the movie has fallen, but the prop, stays behind.