How an alert homeowner rescued a man from an icy Antioch-area lake
For those involved, what happened Sunday afternoon on snow-covered Lake Catherine near Antioch seemed to unfold in slow motion. Or was it in the blink of an eye?
Time is hard to gauge even days later for the man who fell in icy water trying to rescue his dog and the alert lakeside homeowner who managed to pull him out -- cold and a bit confused, but safe.
Call it an accident with a happy ending. And for Sebastian Chadzynski, who at one point wondered if this is how his life would end, a scary and unforgettable lesson to be learned and shared.
"It was very close," the Antioch-area resident said. "I want this to be a warning for everybody."
Sean Mors grew up on Lake Catherine and has lived there for years. He has developed a sixth sense about potential pitfalls of the water.
That Sunday afternoon, he and his wife, Melissa, were entertaining other families and the kids were playing hockey on makeshift rinks created by clearing snow from the ice near shore.
Snow was falling at a pretty good clip, so Mors was clearing one of the rinks while keeping an eye out for eagles, which have become regulars on Lake Catherine in recent years.
About a quarter-mile from shore, he noticed Chadzynski heading toward a patch of open water.
"I saw him walking that way and said, 'Where is he going?'" Mors recalled.
Chadzynski usually walks his 4-year old chocolate Lab, Dalia, on the street near his home. But for only the second time in three years, he decided to take her on the frozen lake -- unleashed -- to let her run and have fun.
Heeding her instincts, Dalia suddenly bolted toward a stretch of open water where dozens of birds gathered. Dalia fell into the opening, known as a "goose hole" by firefighters who make ice rescues.
"I looked again and saw the dog in the water," Mors said. "I told my wife to call 911. We grabbed some ropes and took off."
Chadzynski said he knew not to run to the edge of the open water, so he began crawling on his belly trying to get close enough to Dalia to pull her out. He got within a few feet.
"The ice really started cracking and I knew I would end up in the water," said Chadzynski.
It didn't matter. Dog owners can relate.
"I should have run back to the shore and called for help, but she started crying and my heart was breaking." said Chadzynski, who soon plunged into the icy water. "It was a stupid idea."
Meanwhile, Mors sensed what might happen next, as he and friends Chris Little and Jake Norwood ran along the shoreline toward the open spot while carrying 75-foot lengths of ski ropes.
"I knew there was trouble," Mors said.
Chadzynski managed to push Dalia out of the water, but the ice around him kept breaking, cutting his hands and arms as he tried to lift himself to safety.
"I got so tired. I didn't even think about how cold I was," he said.
Realizing he couldn't get out at that spot, he turned and began swimming slowly about 25 feet to the other side of the opening.
Mors estimates the water there is about 25 feet deep.
"I was afraid he was going to go down and I couldn't get out there," he said.
As they got closer to Chadzynski, Mors tied one end of a ski rope around himself and the other went around Little, while Norwood frantically knocked on doors looking for blankets.
With Little standing closer to shore, Mors began tossing the second rope to Chadzynski. After about three or four throws, he was able to latch on to a ski handle and was pulled to safety.
By then, the effect of the icy water was apparent. Chadzynski couldn't even discern his rescuers' faces.
"I saw this vertical line," he said of the safety strip on Mors' coat. "It was orange, yellow and I saw it moving."
An ambulance was waiting when they got back to shore, but Chadzynski at first didn't think he needed help.
"I thought, 'No, no, no. I'm just going home. I'm just cold,'" he said. He ended up at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, where he was kept a few hours for observation.
Mors estimates Chadzynski was in the water about 15 minutes.
Time is hard to gauge in those circumstances, but Chadzynski said he knew he couldn't have lasted much longer.
"I didn't sleep at all (Sunday night)," he said. "I thought, 'What if?'"
Chadzynski didn't know his rescuers, but wanted to thank them, so he left his information with emergency dispatchers. They forwarded it to the Mors. He later learned his daughter and the Mors' 10-year old son, Seamus, rode the same bus to school.
The families plan to get together for dinner, beers or both.
"If not for Sean and his friends, I don't know what would have happened," Chadzynski said.