Even some emergency officials admitted Wednesday that they feared a woman trapped in a submerged car Monday in Mesa, Arizona had drowned.
But with perhaps just seconds to spare, the woman was pulled to safety in a dramatic rescue caught on camera.
The incident happened Monday afternoon, as Mesa and other communities in the metro Phoenix area were being bombarded with heavy rains and strong winds in the first big monsoon storm of the season.
Just obtained video from a witness, Mesa resident Merrill Brimley, of firefighter/EMT making rescue of a woman who’s car went in a canal during storm in the northwest part of Mesa. Calculated risks are often taken to save lives. pic.twitter.com/VMg4Esukux
— Mesa (Arizona) Fire & Medical Dept (@MesaFireDept) July 10, 2018
A 911 operator received a call from a woman who said she was trapped in her car. Working with police and fire dispatchers, they tried to separate through the confusion of where the woman was located because dispatchers said she gave three different locations of where she was located.
At about the same time, another call from a witness said a car was partially submerged in a canal in the same area where the woman’s call originated.
Dispatchers said at a press conference Wednesday that as they spoke with the stranded woman, they could hear water rising around her. She told the dispatchers she didn’t know how to swim, and they advised her to unbuckle her seat belt.
But then the signal went dead, and they feared the woman had perished in the rapidly rising waters.
When rescue crews arrived, a first responder confirmed a passenger was in the car but initially said the person was “not viable,” meaning she had died.
But suddenly the woman grabbed the arm of the rescuer. He quickly told fellow rescuers, “Viable,” and went underwater to pull the victim out of her car and safely onto shore.
The unidentified woman said she managed to survive by breathing from a tiny pocket of air near the roof of her car.
Merrill Brimley, the man who captured the rescue on video, said it was amazing to see the rescuer react so quickly when he realized the woman was still alive.
“I can only imagine underwater, she grabs him and he says she’s viable, and that’s when he throws his keys to the top and within seconds has her pulled out,” Brimley told KSAZ-TV in Phoenix.
“Obviously, it was a miracle,” he added. “I would assume she was in there 10 minutes or more.”
As the woman was pulled to safety, and it became apparent that she was OK, Brimley said the crowd that had gathered on the bank of the canal cheered the rescue effort.
“It really makes you know that miracles do happen,” he said.
It’s still unclear how the woman ended up in the canal, but as is often the case with monsoon storms that hit Arizona this time of year, a combination of blowing dust, gusty winds and torrential rains not only obscure visibility, they also create flash floods that can sweep cars off roadways.
Monday’s storm featured a 71 mph wind gust at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport. It also produced one of the signature features of Arizona’s monsoon season — a tall cloud of dust that sweeps across the area.
— Chopperguy (@chopperguyhd) July 10, 2018
— Preston Phillips (@PrestonTVNews) July 11, 2018
The storm knocked out power to tens of thousands of people in the area, knocked down trees and power lines and even blew the roof off a motel. No significant injuries were reported.
This likely won’t be the first strong monsoon storm to hit Phoenix this summer, but it will be remembered for creating one of the most dramatic and memorable rescues, reminding us again of the incredible efforts first responders will go through to protect and save lives.
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