Heroic efforts turn tragedy into lifesaving event

 

MANISTEE — There are dates on the calendar that stand out as being special in a person’s life for a variety of reasons.

Frankfort resident Kim Fairchild (second from left) was rescued from a near drowning on the Big Manistee River on June 6 when fishing with his friend Rick Herman (far right). The three who pulled the non-breathing Fairchild from the water and revived him were Troy Ance (far left), Ben Blostein (middle) and Steven Padilla (second from right). The three were honored by Manistee County Sheriff John O’Hagan for their heroic act. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

It may be the birth of a child, marriage, graduation or a variety of other memorable dates that stay with an individual for the course of their life.

For Frankfort resident Kim Fairchild June 6, 2019, will remain special because as he puts it, that was the day he was given the gift of life. What remains so incredible about that fact is the unique way a group of actions lined up perfectly on a remote portion of the Big Manistee River.

That day started out pretty common for Fairchild, as he and his friend of many decades, Rick Herman, were planning on a relaxing day of fishing on the Big Manistee River. It is a spot that was familiar to both men located just a half mile down river from the Hodenpyl Dam by the suspension bridge near where Woodpecker Creek flows into it.

The two friends donned their waders and entered the river looking to do a little fly fishing to land that prized big one. Shortly after entering the water, Fairchild said he made a costly mistake when he stepped into a portion of the river where his friend warned him not to go because there was a major hole.

“I didn’t realize that was the place,” he said. “I looked at the water and it looked utterly benign. The water was clear, beautiful, but when I took another step I quickly realized I wasn’t going to get out of there. The water could have pushed a locomotive, it was moving so strong.”

In what was a quirk of fate that would save his life on that remote portion of the river, Benjamin Blostein and Steven Padilla happened to be at that location kayaking and fishing. Blostein and Padilla hail from the Detroit area, but their family has a cottage in Whitehall and they have been on that portion of the Big Manistee before because they love the area.

Fairchild realized he was in trouble, and when he spotted Blostein he called for help.

“I turned to Ben and said I can’t get out,” said Fairchild.

Kim Fairchild shakes the hand of Ben Blostein who pulled him from the water on the Big Manistee River on June 6 saving his life. A special ceremony was held at the Manistee County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday to commemorate the event. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

Blostein said he got on a little island of sand near Fairchild and tried to give him his hand to get him out of the current.

“When Kim took one step the current kind of swept his legs out from under and started washing him downstream and his waders quickly filled up with water, so he couldn’t really swim,” said Blostein.

That was where another fisherman, Troy Ance, by luck, happened to be fishing that day. He quickly responded to the calls for help from off the bank. Ance said it was by total happenstance that he was in that area on that day.

“I live three hours away and for some reason, something told me I had to go fishing there on that day even though I had other things to do,” he said.

Blostein said Ance hurried to help.

“Kim’s friend Rick threw Troy his wading staff and he tried to pull him out,” said Blostein. “Kim was fighting the current and his head started to go under the water, so I swam out to him and grabbed him. I then swum like crazy until Troy was able to grab my hand and he pulled us both out.”

Ance said Blostein was the real hero.

“He just jumped in and started swimming,” said Ance. “I saw Kim was in the hole and once Ben had him, I just was able to stick my arm out and pull.”

Padilla was slightly up river when all of that started happening, but quickly moved in to help as well.

“The current was very fast, but once I got down closer I saw Ben hop into action,” said Padilla. “If Ben hadn’t used his gut reaction to go in after Kim we wouldn’t have been able to contribute like we did. Ben really grabbed the bull by the horns and did what he needed to do.”

During the ordeal Fairchild had swallowed quite a bit of water and stopped breathing. Blostein had fire academy training and lifeguard training, while Padilla has

Manistee County Sheriff John O’Hagan presents the rescuers of Kim Fairchild with certificates commemorating their life saving actions. O’Hagan plans to nominate them for a state award from the Michigan Sheriff’s Association in January. (Ken Grabowski/News Adovcate)

done a lot of sailing, so they knew exactly what to do in that type of situation.

“I started doing chest compressions to get the water out of his lungs and after that we rolled him onto his side, and he started to spit up water and came to,” said Blostein. “We loaded him into Steven’s kayak because he was so exhausted that he wasn’t able to move, and the water was really cold. We were definitely lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”

Padilla said Fairchild looked lifeless when they pulled him out, but he wasn’t ready to give up on him.

“I wasn’t going to accept that he was gone and kept talking to him asking him to squeeze my hand, but he wasn’t doing it,” said Padilla.

Padilla then sighed and smiled and said, “All of the sudden his fingers closed around mine.”

Fairchild’s friend, Rick was on the phone calling 911 at the time to get help to the remote location.

“Once I saw Kim wasn’t breathing when they got him out of the water, I tried to reach 911 and as we know back there there isn’t much reception, but I was finally able to get some help,” said Herman. “If Ben hadn’t been heroic and jumped into that water to get him out, things would have been different. That is not a river to play with and they all risked their lives to help.”

When first responders arrived, they jumped into action and all three praised them for their efforts. They put Fairchild on oxygen and took him by ambulance to the hospital.

Manistee County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol officer Mike Sekuris is very familiar with that portion of the river, and he said the current can be treacherous in that location.

“That water is coming around a corner there and it is just whipping,” said Sekuris. “That is probably the strongest part of the river all the way down from Hodenpyl Dam to Manistee Lake,” said Sekuris. “Even when I am coming up with my jet boat I have my boat almost half throttle just to stay where I am at.”

Manistee County sheriff John O’Hagan said his department has witnessed far too often the bad things that can happen on the Manistee River and that is why he wanted to honor them with an award from his office. With the way these individuals responded, O’Hagan plans to submit them for an award with the Michigan Sheriff’s Association.

“The awards for the past year just came out, so we are going to have to wait a while, but the first of January they take the nominations and this will definitely be submitted,” said O’Hagan. “We wanted to let (Blostein, Padilla and Ance) know what you did was important to us and outstanding bravery. When they got him out and started doing chest compressions, if two more minutes had went by, it would have been a different story. It kind of gives you chills.”

Fairchild said since the incident he has really changed his perspective on things, and it has moved him to enjoy every second of the rest of his life.

“I told these guys the other night you gave me what only one other person in this life has ever given me and that was my mother,” said Fairchild. “She gave me the initial gift of life, and they renewed that gift.”

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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