BROOKINGS, S.D. (AP) — It was supposed to be just another happy Sunday afternoon when the Brookings family of Jerad Frericks and Terri Kuechenmeister brought their kids to the Days Inn water park.
Instead, the family got a scary reminder about swimming safety and that accidents can happen at any time.
And now, after she slipped away unnoticed and onto a waterslide without her lifejacket, one little girl also calls her older brother a hero.
At the water park on April 12, Frericks stayed behind by the cash register while Kuechenmeister began readying a spot at a poolside table.
Leaving her mother’s side, 3-year-old Piper, who was supposed to get her wristband from her father, instead spotted the waterslides.
“I had my back turned for a few seconds, and she happened to make her way up those stairs and down the waterslide,” without anyone noticing, Kuechenmeister told the Brookings Register ( ).
She’s not one to wander, either: “She’s actually pretty clingy most of the time, especially when we’re out in public.”
Piper says she loves to swim, but she still needs a lifejacket. As it turned out, in her excitement to go down the waterslide, she skipped that crucial step.
When Piper came out at the other end of the slide, she went under the water.
Kuechenmeister credited mother’s intuition for alerting her to something being wrong. She turned around, and Piper was nowhere to be seen.
The family began scanning the area when 11-year-old half-brother Logan Bortnem simply yelled, “Water!”
Logan explained, “There was nothing and then I looked out at the pool and I saw paddling, so I just jumped in.”
Still fully clothed, hoodie and all, Logan dived in “Baywatch-style,” Kuechenmeister said. The rest happened quickly. After diving in, for a second, he thought it might be someone else: “Wrong kid, uh-oh. But I just grabbed her anyway and knew it was her because I could tell by the swimsuit.”
Kuechenmeister was right behind him at the pool’s side as Logan pushed Piper up and to the pool’s edge.
“She was pushing down on my head because she was trying to get air. Then Mom grabbed her out,” Logan said.
“Yeah,” Piper confirmed.
She was coughing, but never lost consciousness. But even after the close call, Piper was eager to get back to swimming after she recuperated.
“I got my lifejacket on, and then I hopped in the water,” Piper said.
Taking some advice from friends later that day, they went to the hospital to have her checked out. Her oxygen levels were a bit low, so she spent the next hour or so with an oxygen mask. Worn out by then, Piper took it all in stride and behaved well. “They gave her apple juice, and she ended up with a stuffed animal out of the deal. Logan came with to keep her company,” Kuechenmeister said.
And the family couldn’t be prouder of Logan’s quick action.
“Some kids, being 11, that would be a scary situation where they might just freeze solid and not do something,” Kuechenmeister said.
But it’s all in keeping with his nature, she added. “It brought tears to my eyes to know that that’s what he’d do for his sister.”
Logan said everybody’s been calling him a hero for it, too. “My mom sent photos after we were done, and I told my homeroom class. I heard one person say that just hearing it sounded scary.”
One of the people calling him hero is Piper.
“She randomly tells Logan, ‘Thank you for saving my life, Logie.’ Because it’s just been talked about at grandma’s and with cousins and different things like that. She talks about it here and there and tells him thank you,” Kuechenmeister said.
And the family has since gone over swimming safety with Piper again. “Now we wear our lifejacket all the time, right?” Kuechenmeister asked.
Information from: Brookings Register,