On Saturday, 83-year-old Thomas Lee and his dog Cooper were saved by 17-year-old Joe Salmon after Lee’s Jeep fell through the ice underneath the Highway 71 bridge in Okoboji, Iowa, part of Dickinson County.
According to the Dickinson County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, Salmon had help from four other men who were in the area, Corey McConnell, 30, Kody Harrelson, 26, Cody Chester, 27, and Chris Parks, 27.
Lee was on his way to his son-in-law’s fishing shack when his Jeep broke through the ice. Luckily, Salmon was ice-fishing with his mother nearby and watching snowmobile races when he noticed the Jeep around 3 PM, per the Des Moines Register.
Salmon—who’s a wrestler, football player, and track runner—was quick to act, dialing 911 immediately before going onto the ice to attempt the rescue. At first, Salmon and others were shouting for Lee to exit the vehicle, but he was unresponsive—still conscious, just in shock presumably.
“I took one step and [the water] went to about my chest,” Salmon said. “I got on the bumper of the rear and tried opening the back door, but all the windows were locked, but one guy gave me a knife and I hit the back glass a couple of times.”
The water is estimated to only be 3-4 feet deep where the Jeep fell in, but the car was nearly at the bottom with water-level rising inside the cab and rushing in quickly.
After Salmon broke the window open, he was able to pull the dog, Cooper, through the window and onto land, where the four other men met the pup. Salmon then entered the Jeep to rescue Lee.
With water-levels at his waist already, Lee had gotten his foot stuck between the center console and the driver’s seat. Salmon had to pull the console up to free him and managed to get Lee to safety, outside of the vehicle.
Cooper was taken to a nearby store where they gave him a towel to warm and dry him off after briefly being in below freezing water. Lee was transported to a nearby hospital, but neither he nor Cooper suffered any injuries.
“I want to thank the people who helped and the store that took the dog in and dried him off,” Lee said afterwards.
Salmon had minor cuts from the glass but was fine and continued fishing. The Okoboji store that took care of Cooper also gave Salmon dry clothes.
“I’m happy that he was OK and the dog was OK,” Salmon said. “It was just crazy at the time. I’ve never done anything like that.”
In the process of saving Lee, Salmon lost his shoes in the water. Salmon’s track team tweeted of the incident, asking Nike for a new pair for “selflessly assisting a man who’s vehicle fell through the ice”.
Nike hasn’t responded, but ESPN reporter Marty Smith tweeted back, “Get me Joe’s address. [Jordan shoes] coming his way.”