Axe-wielding Keremeos hero describes toddler’s rescue

“I searched under the water for what I thought would be shoulder straps”

A Keremeos man is being hailed as a hero after he rescued a three-year-old boy who was trapped underwater in a car on the side of Highway 5A near Princeton last Saturday.

Brian Vanderlinde, who broke the back window of the vehicle with an axe and crawled inside to pull the toddler to safety, provided a written account of the story to The Spotlight.

Princeton truck driver Gary Lind assisted in the rescue. The men were aided roadside by an off-duty emergency room doctor who pulled over and helped resuscitate the child.

Related: Courageous man pulls child from submerged car

Vanderlinde and his 12-year-old son came across the scene at about 3 p.m.

“I saw a vehicle upside down in the creek. I opened my door to the woman frantically screaming ‘My son, My son!’” said Vanderlinde.

The car’s horn was incessantly blaring, he recalled.

“I turned to my son and told him to call 911. When I ran over the bank I noticed a truck coming and waved my arms to get him to stop.”

Vanderlinde was hip deep in the frigid water and could not open the doors of the overturned car.

“Looking up I saw the truck driver running and yelled at him: ‘We need a hammer.’ He came back quickly with an axe and passed it to me over the car. I turned and smashed the window.”

Inside the car Vanderlinde could see most of the boy’s body was suspended upside down, submerged.

“I saw only a small lap in a car seat out of the water … I searched under the water for what I thought would be shoulder straps … I couldn’t figure out the belts so decided to take the entire seat out and when I released the car seatbelt everything came loose.”

Vanderlinde passed the unconscious child to Lind, who began administering back blows and ran with him up the bank.

“When I moved over to them the driver told me he was breathing. Kneeling down beside them I could see bubbles coming from the child’s mouth.”

While Vanderlinde was looking for dry clothes for the boy another car stopped on the scene, and a physician jumped out and began examining the child.

“She began looking the child over when he spit and puked up water, waking up. Then you could hear the ambulance siren coming and it arrived.”

He described feeling “great relief.”

According to Princeton RCMP Sergeant Barry Kennedy, the boy had been underwater for about three minutes.

“The doctors at Princeton hospital stated that it was a critical time to rescue the child at this point.”

The Similkameen Spotlight was unable to reach Lind.

The 21-year-old mother of the child, who lives in Princeton and who was driving the car when it flipped into the water, declined an interview, saying the situation was too traumatizing to discuss.

According to police the child was transported to Penticton General Hospital and has made a full recovery.

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