Rescuers say 4 inches kept a driver from drowning in I-43 crash

SHEBOYGAN -- A late-night drive almost turned deadly for a man and woman in Sheboygan County who plunged off I-43 into the Pigeon River.

The sheriff's office said the man fell asleep at the wheel on Monday just after 9:30 p.m.

"He drove about 300 feet in the median and from the point of impact you could see the gouges in the grass. I think he flew about 250 feet," said Tim Ellis of the Town of Sheboygan Fire Department. 

The vehicle landed with the driver's side down in the river. The passenger, a woman, was able to make it out. The driver was trapped.  

"About four inches his head was showing in the water," said EMS Lt. Larry Krueger.

Rescuers quickly realized the way to save the driver was by repelling down and then hoist him back out. But first they had to get the driver out of the car.

"When we cut the roof and started lowering the roof, we had to take care to make sure that he didn't go into the water," said Chief Roger Benzschawel of the Town of Sheboygan Fire Department.

They strapped him to a board as a medical helicopter waited on the freeway to take him for help.

"They dropped a person down on a rope and picked up a basket and picked it up securely and brought the patient up onto the bridge," said Ellis.

Crews then had to pull the SUV up and over the bridge.

Later they say they realized the magnitude of the rescue.

"At the time you are doing your job," said Ellis. "We are all volunteer but we're there when we needed."

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