Airman saves girl from drowning

By Senior Airman Divine Cox on January 14, 2016

Whether in uniform or not, the United States Air Force requires all airmen to uphold to its core values and encourages airmen to be aware of their surroundings at all times.

Staff Sgt. Matthew Siegele, 627th Force Support Squadron sports and fitness noncommissioned officer in charge, had his situational awareness tested Jan. 1 when a little girl fell through the ice on Carter Lake, Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Siegele was at the park next to Carter Lake with his daughter. While there, his daughter spotted three girls playing and asked if she could play with them.

"Yes, you can go play," said Siegele. "As long as you stay off the ice, I'm okay with that."

Siegele said as he watched the girls play, the oldest girl would try and talk the other girls into seeing how far they could walk across the ice. He advised them not to do that, because it might not be safe.

"I took control of my daughter," said Siegele. "The other girls shrugged me off and proceeded onto the ice."

Siegele said later that afternoon, before sunset, one of the girls yelled "It's time to go home!"

"As soon as I looked up, I could hear screaming," said Siegele. "I looked back to where I last saw the little girl on the ice and seen that she had fallen in. She was waving her arms in the air and screaming for help."

Siegele made the quick decision to run around the lake to the side closest to her so he could reach her safer.

"I knew the ice couldn't hold my weight," said Siegele. "Running around to the other side was my only option to try to save her."

Siegele said as he rounded the fence line, he saw a man get out of a silver van and run towards the lake.

"I followed the individual into the ice," said Siegele. "We were determined to help this little girl."

The individual got to the girl before Siegele. Siegele and the guy started swimming back to the shore with the little girl between them when suddenly the guy went underwater and Siegele lost grip of the girl and she went under, too.

"I reached for her, but I couldn't feel her," said Siegele. "So I dove under to find her and managed to pull her up by her jacket."

Siegele and the little girl resurfaced and headed to shore just as the other guy reached the shore.

"Once we got to shore, I took off her jacket and the individual grabbed my jacket that I took off before entering the water and put it on her," said Siegele.

Siegele said as he picked up the phone to call 911, the girl's Dad arrived to the lake in a panic state.

"The dad grabbed his little girl and headed home," said Siegele. "We all exchanged information, but I was so cold and out of it, I forgot everything."

Later that night, Siegele contacted the parents of the little girl, after finding their phone number in his phone to see if she was okay.

Siegele said her parents thanked him for saving their daughter.

"I'm just glad I was there," said Siegele. "All the training I've got through my years in the Air Force prompted me to react quickly enough and ultimately save her life."