GASTON, Ore. -- The people who worked together to pull eight children from a lake in Gaston, Oregon, Saturday evening are describing the rescue and the town is planning to honor them for their heroism.
All eight kids, from 6 to 13 years old, were taken to several local hospitals after they nearly drowned during a family outing on Hagg Lake. Their injuries were not life-threatening, but it was a very close call.
Witnesses told firefighters they saw one child get into trouble in the deep water so other siblings rushed to save her. But the kids rushing to the rescue didn't know there was a sudden drop-off. They also quickly found themselves struggling in the water.
The kids' family started yelling and screaming for help. Another family having a reunion nearby ran into the water and quickly pulled some of the kids out by passing them hand-to-hand to the shore.
Two of the rescuers said they couldn't see all of the children, but they felt them under the water.
"I had tripped over a couple of them so I was trying to get down and I brought one of them up," said Michelle Rushing.
"You couldn't see any of the other kids in the water, so I was just kind of reaching down trying to grab whatever I could," Eric MacLean added.
“One of the rescuers stepped on the hand or the leg of one the other children who was at the bottom that they had not seen. When she felt the child, they were able to pull that child out as well,” said Ken Bilderback, a spokesperson for the Gaston Fire Department.
Two of the children were not breathing when pulled to shore, but they were breathing on their own before four ambulances, Washington County sheriff’s deputies and Gaston firefighters showed up.
Afterwards, some of the rescuers said they were upset that more people didn't come forward to help. "I ran by a picnic table full of people. I ran by other people sitting on the beach on towels and nobody was responding," said Evan Gibson.
Bilderback said the family members who saved these eight kids are heroes. The Gaston Fire Department planned to honor them with a special event soon.
Officials said this near-drowning was an important reminder about the importance of making sure kids wear life jackets. Bilderback said there were free life jackets available at Hagg Lake, but none of the kids in this emergency had been wearing them.
KGW Reporter Jacqueline Sit contributed to this report.