A Coast Guard veteran turned Naperville firefighter thought he had a cakewalk of a water rescue when he arrived at a pond to see a man perched atop the door of a mostly submerged car.
"I thought, 'Oh, this is going to be easy. He'll just walk out,'" Naperville firefighter/paramedic Carl Schultz said about the rescue effort that began about 12:20 p.m. Friday in a retention pond on the 2100 block of Winding River Drive. "Little did I know how deep it was."
And little did he know how afraid the man was of water and how little concept he had of how to swim.
Schultz got the man, whom authorities have not named, safely out of the water. But it took a frantic swim and a shallow dive to find him and help him to shore.
While Schultz tried to coax the man into the water toward safety, the car continued to sink. The man seemed "deathly afraid" of the water and unwilling to get in. Soon Schultz knew he had to act.
He turned to the others in his crew, attached a tether, then turned back to the pond. That's when the man slipped under.
"There wasn't much struggle," Schultz said. "He just went down like a bag of rocks."
With no flailing arms and no bubbles from panicked breathing, Schultz said he initially swam -- using a fast front crawl -- too far into the pond. He overshot the man, but the firefighters on shore helped him estimate how far to turn back.
"I was very afraid of not finding him," Schultz said.
The orange dry-suit Schultz wore, meant for surface water rescues, provided flotation. Schultz, a Coast Guard veteran who has served in Hawaii, Seattle, China, along the Atlantic coast and on every continent except Africa, said the specialized gear hurt the cause temporarily by making it tough for him to dive and search underwater.
But he reached down, lucked out and saw the man's hand -- or half of it -- and grabbed it. Schultz said he pulled the man toward him by his hand, then arm, then elbow, then shoulder, eventually bringing his head above water while the rest of the crew towed the two to shore.
All of this, captured on a bystander's video, happened within about a minute. The man was underwater about half that time, when he either swallowed or breathed in some pond water. Rescue breathing and airway stimulation helped him regain his breathing.
"He coughed up water and blood and yucky stuff from the pond," Schultz said. "Within five minutes, he seemed pretty normal to me."
But the fire department still took him to Edward Hospital in Naperville, authorities said. Without his name, the hospital could provide no update on his condition.
On the way there, Schultz said the man told firefighters he hit the wrong pedal, which caused him to drive into the pond. Police responded along with the fire department but saw no wrongdoing and did not investigate the reason the car went into the pond.
The save was the first water rescue in Schultz's 12-year career with the Naperville Fire Department, although he said he did come to the aid of people in distress while serving in the Coast Guard.