Willard Van Fleet died helping to save a girl from drowning, Dalton, Pennsylvania, February 21, 2009. A 5-year-old girl went onto an ice-covered pond but broke through at a point about 15 feet from the bank and fell into 12 feet of water. Her mother’s friend, Van Fleet, 36, general laborer, immediately went onto the ice for her and then jumped into the water. He held the girl up while his stepfather, who was present, left to summon help. The girl’s mother went onto the ice for her, but she too broke through and, unable to extricate herself, held to the edge of the ice. Van Fleet swam to her and handed the girl over to her before submerging. His stepfather, meanwhile, despite having a history of significant heart disease, returned to the pond from his nearby home with an extension ladder, which he placed on the ice within reach of the girl’s mother. She did not have the strength to grasp it. As a responding firefighter then removed both the girl and her mother from the open water to safety, Van Fleet’s stepfather suffered a fatal heart attack and collapsed to the ice. The girl and her mother were taken to a hospital for treatment of hypothermia, from which they recovered. Van Fleet was removed from the pond by divers about three hours later. He had drowned.
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