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home : news : local   February 5, 2016

4/21/2014 2:12:00 PM
Ottawa man saves kayaker's life

Tom Collins and The Associated Press

An Ottawa man helped save the life of a kayak rider whose companion drowned Saturday in the Fox River near Geneva.

Kevin O’Connor, 40, of Ottawa was among the bystanders who entered the Fox River to try and save two men who went over the dam in their kayaks around 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

A 26-year-old Bloomington man was drowned and found still entangled in his kayak, O’Connor said, disputing a published report the one who perished was ejected from his kayak.

O’Connor pulled a second boater, who was ejected from his kayak, out from below the water. O’Connor, reached by telephone this morning, told the NewsTribune he was standing on the river shore with his 11-year-old son, Ryan, when bystanders gathered at the shore and emergency vehicles approached.

When a bystander called for someone to “grab him,” indicating the water, O’Connor handed his cellular phone to Ryan and ran into the water to help.

“I took off running down to the water, jumped into the river and started making my way towards what they were talking to, because I still couldn’t see what it was,” he said.

He swam under the bridge and around some concrete pillars and then saw a lifejacket.

“When I got to the jacket, I realized there was a body attached to it,” O’Connor said. “I grabbed him, put my arms under his arms and lifted him. He wasn’t breathing. I worked our way toward the shore. I was hitting his chest and after about five hits he finally coughed up a bunch of water and started breathing again.”

The man was heavy, at least 200 pounds, and O’Connor labored toward the seawall, where another man jumped in the water. Together, they lifted him into the arms of medics who whisked him off to a nearby hospital.

“I hope he’s doing all right,” said O’Connor, who said he swapped messages with authorities and has yet to exchange information about the rescue.

Conservation police officer Keith Siedsma said his office is investigating the incident and that the victims’ names still are being withheld. Siedsma confirmed key details of O’Connor’s account of the events but emphasized that he, Siedsma, was not present at the scene and cannot expound on O’Connor’s role.

O’Connor said the forgotten hero is his son, who kept his composure and assured his mother and sister the situation was under control.

“My wife told me later she was so impressed with how calm he was.”

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