Trapped in Freezing Water, Woman 'Lucky' to be Alive
Two firefighters rescue woman after she drove into Lake Hopatcong.
NORTH JERSEY -- The woman who drove her car into a lake Thursday night may not have survived if it wasn't for the two rescuers' quick response and her stroke of luck that night.
The two Hopatcong firefighters who saved the woman—whose identity police have not released—said she's "lucky" to be alive after being trapped in her car in the freezing cold Lake Hopatcong for at least 15 minutes after hitting a guard rail.
When the two rescuers, Billy Long and Robert Tallaksen, first arrived to the scene on Hopatcong Street they saw the car on its side in the water, unsure of the woman's condition.
"At first, I thought it was a good possibility that she wouldn't be alive because more than three quarters of her car was submerged," Tallaksen said.
But Tallaksen, who has been a member of the fire department for 10 years and ambulance squad for more than 20, said because the car landed in the water on the passenger's side, she was able to breathe through the driver's window, which was open a few inches.
Long and Tallaksen, members of the Northwood Fire Department Co. No. 2, jumped into the water with their dry suits on with a tool to break open the window.
The two firefighters took a sheetrock saw, a tool normally used for cutting down walls during a fire, to break the glass.
"I set my arms inside to cover her face, told her to close her eyes, and then Billy punched the glass and the window popped," Tallaksen said.
Once the window was open, they were able to unlock the door, but then had to untangle the woman from her seat belt. The police on the dock nearby held the door open while Long and Tallaksen got the woman onto the dock.
The other first responders then lifted her out on a backboard and covered her in jackets to keep her warm. She was then transported to Morristown Medical Center where she was treated for hypothermia, according to Lt. Thomas Kmetz.
Tallaksen said it took about five minutes in the water to rescue her, and was surprised at how calm she was the whole time.
"I figured she'd be in more of panic, trying to keep her head up," he said. "She had her head up above the water on her own."
Tallaksen said the cold had disoriented the woman and drained all of her energy. He said she was probably in the water for at least 10 minutes before they got there.
The fire department got the call around 11:40 p.m. from a nearby resident who heard the crash and discovered the car in the water. Two residents rushed to the dock and shined flashlights on the woman until the first responders arrived.
Tallaksen said if the residents never discovered the crash, and if she was in her car for another 20 minutes she may not have survived.
"The cold would affect her heart rate, her heart, and her respirations," he said. "She would have fallen asleep and drifted underneath the water."
Tallaksen said the woman was also fortunate because he and the other members of the Northwood Fire Co. were at the fire house because they had just participated in a drill. He said they were able to get to the scene in four minutes, when normally their response time is about 10 minutes.
Long, who joined the Hopatcong Fire Department three years ago, said this was his first water rescue. He said it was "rewarding" to see the combined effort from all of the responders save this woman's life.
"When you go and you do the job that you're trained to do all the time, and when you see it come together like it did, with everybody who showed up—police, fire—it was just a rewarding experience to see how everyone works together when there's something like that going on."
Police said they're not releasing any additional information due to the circumstances of the incident.