2 teenagers rescued after fall through ice into freezing water in Paterson

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) -- Fire officials say two teenagers were rescued after they fell through ice and plunged into freezing waters of the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey.

Paterson Battalion Chief Brian Rathbone says he went out onto the ice without a wetsuit Tuesday afternoon after a citizen knocked on the door of the firehouse and said two youths had fallen through the ice.

Shawntell Wilson and Shi'Eym Lennon, both 16, had thought it would be safe to cross the river, and that decision almost cost them their lives. And to make matters worse, Lennon doesn't know how to swim.

"When we first fell in, I'm like, 'I can make it,' so I kept breaking the ice, and I was got closer," Wilson said. "But then I saw Shi'Eym start to get numb, and he obviously couldn't move, because I couldn't."

A man on the shoreline ran to help and threw out a hose, but it didn't reach. And that's when he ran to the firehouse.

"I started to lose my hearing, and I almost lost consciousness, to be honest with you," Wilson said. "Once I stopped being able to hear people, I thought it was over."

There was nothing they could do but hold on to the ice and wait for help.

"Once we knew we'd be there a while, we just had a conversation," Wilson said. "We prayed, and then we talked."

Firefighters first approached from one side of the river, but the boys were closer to the other side, and so extra help was called in.

"Hypothermia was setting in, and they'd probably be in for 20 to 25 minutes at that point," Deputy Fire Chief Brian McDermott said. "Which, if you're in icy water, that's pretty long."

Responders managed to get a throw ring to the boys, and then Rathbone tethered himself and slid on the ice toward them before eventually falling through himself. He swam to the teens, who were holding onto the life preserver, and all four were eventually pulled out of the water.

"Once I got on the thing and they pulled me up, I told them I didn't want to die," Wilson said. "After that, I closed my eyes and went to sleep, and when I woke up, I was in the hospital."

It was a lesson learned.

"They're real good kids," McDermott said. "Boys making boy decisions, and they learned from it. And our hopes here at the Paterson Fire Department is that other kids learn a lesson by what these boys went through."

And they were grateful for the rescue.

"I told them I would never go on the ice again," Lennon said.

"We told them thank you," WIlson added. "Grateful for them being there, coming when they did, and them just risking their lives to save ours. We thank them for that."

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