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Maine officer saves teen from freezing water

The 14-year-old's body temperature dropped to 92 degrees after being in the water for 15 minutes.

CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Tiffany Drake's worst fears as a mother played out in front of her Wednesday afternoon.

Her son, 14-year-old Nathanael Drake, was playing hockey with three of his friends on Great Pond in their hometown of Cape Elizabeth. They were skating about 100 feet from shore when Nathanael fell through the ice.

The group said they checked the ice thickness the night before and again when they arrived that afternoon. Tiffany Drake stayed close by, walking her dog on a path near the pond, but she didn't know anything had gone wrong until she saw police drive toward her, park their vehicle, then run past her toward the pond.

"I raced down with the officer, and I thank God that I got there with the officer, because he looked me in the eyes and said, 'Stay here,'" she said during a Thursday interview with NEWS CENTER Maine. "And I looked out onto the ice, and my little kid was in the water with his head sticking out."

The mother said she was grateful she didn't know what had happened until police and fire crews were already on the scene, because if she had been there when her son fell through, she would have gone out after him.

"They would have had to save two people instead of one," she said.

Nathanael's friends were the ones who called 911. They then grabbed a rope with a buoy tied to the end that the town hung on a tree for emergencies. They threw it repeatedly, but the wind kept blowing it away, they said.

The buildings for Cape Elizabeth Fire and Rescue and the police department are located less than a mile and a half from the pond's shore, where the boys tried to save their friend. Crews arrived quickly, they said, but person after person broke through the ice as they tried to make their way out to Nathanael. 

When he first went in, he had enough energy to try to kick himself back onto solid ice. As the minutes ticked on, he could feel himself fading.

"They were trying to get out to me and throw me the stuff," he said. "And when a guy fell through and tried to slide his body across, I thought that was pretty much all they could do until officer Webster jumped in."

Aaron Webster is a 17-year veteran of the Cape Elizabeth Police Department. He was about to attempt his first water rescue. On Thursday, he joined the Drakes and their friends at the pond to tell the story of the day before. After arriving on the scene, Webster said he spoke with a firefighter on the shore and quickly decided to take off his radio and gear and walk out to Nathanael with a stretcher. 

He, too, fell in on his way out but trudged on.

"I was losing strength myself," Webster said. "I was getting so tired, so quickly. That confidence of being a good swimmer and things like that? Totally out the window."

He pushed the stretcher toward Nathanael, who grabbed on, and the crew pulled him to shore. Once out of the water, he was brought by ambulance to a nearby hospital.

"I was really scared I was going to lose fingers or toes and also scared of hypothermia and stuff like that," he said. "But they told me I'd be fine, so I'm thankful."

He can smile now, but he spent 15 minutes in the water. Tiffany said she was told his body temperature dropped to 92 degrees. 

If he had spent much more time submerged, things could have ended far worse.

Tiffany cried as she spoke about the people who responded to their call for help.

"They came down, and they were all about business, and they kept level heads," she said. "They worked together as a team, all of them, and they got him out. They got him out."

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