By Rosemary Regina Sobol
2:28 PM EST, December 25, 2012
A man was pulled from the Chicago River near Union Station downtown this morning, officials said.
The incident happened about 9:20 a.m. at the Adams Street bridge over the river at 222 S. Riverside Plaza, according to Chicago Fire Media. The man was taken in fair condition to Northwestern Memorial Hospital by a Chicago Fire Department ambulance.
University of Illinois landscape architecture student Ji Xu had just gotten off a train at Union Station and was on his way to Midway Airport to travel to Florida for the holidays.
He was standing outside the station at the riverside, looking at his cell phone, when he and another man nearby saw the man climb onto a fence on the side of the bridge. The man then spoke to him.
"He told me to call police before he jumped," Xu said of the man.
Xu, 22, who was born in China, said he and the other man ran toward him but were too late.
"We were trying to stop him. We were running and shouting," Xu said.
Xu dialed 911, but gave the phone to the other man because of a language barrier. Authorities quickly arrived.
"I don't think he wanted to die in the early morning of Christmas," Xu said.
Chicago Fire Department diver Douglas Schick was the first to swim out to the man, who'd been in the water for about 10 to 15 minutes.
"My main concern was keeping visual contact with him in case he ended up submerging," said Schick, a 16-year veteran of the Fire Department.
Schick was wearing a dry suit to keep him warm, scuba fins and a life vest with a harness that connected him to other firefighters on shore.
"He was in the middle of the river, I reached him and other firefighters pulled us to the shore," Schick said.
"First I grabbed him under his arm just to make sure I had contact and then I did a rescue grab, and the other firefighters pulled us both in," Schick said.
The water was extremely cold, maybe about 35 degrees, Schick estimates. "It's definitely not something you want to swim in."
Crews got the victim to shore and onto a stretcher where they began working on him.
About 25 Fire Department personnel had rushed to the scene, including those aboard a helicopter with divers, a squad, an engine, and an ambulance, said fire spokesman Lt. Quention Curtis, who was on the scene.
"Hypothermia was kicking in. He was soaking wet and the water was pretty cold," Curtis said. "He was shaking and shivering."
"Our only thought was: 'Let’s get him out of the water, it's Christmas,' " Curtis said.
The man was taken to Northwestern Memorial hospital in fair-to-serious condition, treated for hypothermia, said Chicago Fire Department spokesman Kevin MacGregor.
"He never lost consciousness. We made a very quick and timely response," said MacGregor.
Schick said he was focused on his many years of training.
"You sort of go through a process in your mind of what of what you've trained on in the past," Schick said.
Realizing that it was Christmas didn't play a part until after the man was safe, Schick said.
"It was an additional reason to be happy that it was a successful rescue."