An Illinois Army National Guard corporal helped save a woman’s life last August by diving into the murky water of a retention pond in Huntley, Illinois, and pulling her from an overturned, sinking vehicle.
CPL Nathan Pratt Jennings, of Machesney Park, was one of 11 people who helped rescue the woman after her car flipped over and plunged into the retention pond off Interstate 90. CPL Jennings was driving home from work on Interstate 90 about 3 p.m. when he saw a “big splash” in the pond out of the corner of his eye. “I hunt geese, so I knew whatever made that splash had to be big,” CPL Jennings said.
Jennings pulled off the highway and ran to the pond, where he saw the overturned car sinking into the water. A couple of other men were also on the scene. “I asked them if they saw anyone come out,” CPL Jennings said. “They indicated that they hadn’t. It was then that I realized that someone had to be in the car.”
So he ripped off his suit jacket and went into the dark water. “The water was up to my chest, and I’m 6-2,” he said.
“You couldn’t see anything in the water, but I managed to get the passenger side door open.”
Another man got into the water, and Jennings asked him to hold his feet while he entered the car. “I groped around looking for a seat belt thinking maybe they were strapped in. I couldn’t see anything. It was like swimming in a big bowl of gravy. There wasn’t anyone on the passenger side. Then my hands grazed something, and I realized it was someone floating in the car.”
CPL Jennings managed to get his hands on the ankle of the driver, Joanna Girmscheid, and, with some difficulty, pulled the unconscious woman out of the car. Then, CPL Jennings and others were able to move her to the side of the pond. More people had stopped, and as soon as the accident victim was out of the pond, a woman started performing CPR on her. “I thought she was dead,” CPL Jennings said. “It seemed like she was underwater for about five minutes.”
As some people took turns performing CPR, others went back into the water to ensure no one else was in the car. After a little while, CPL Jennings said, Girmscheid started to moan and move. When paramedics arrived, they took over the emergency care. “One of the EMTs opened the door to the ambulance before they took off and yelled that she was conscious and knew who she was,” CPL Jennings said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Illinois State Police honored CPL Jennings and 10 others in a ceremony Aug. 29 at Illinois State Police District 15 headquarters in Downers Grove. Video from the ceremony showed Girmscheid hugging everyone who helped save her life. Illinois State Police presented CPL Jennings and the other good Samaritans with commendation letters.
“Everyone standing behind me is the true definition of a hero,” Girmscheid said during the ceremony. “What happened to me … could have ended very tragically. It could have ended in a funeral, and instead it ended in celebration, and my life will continue because of these people.”
CPL Jennings credited his military training for his ability to respond to a stressful situation. “This weird calmness took over,” he said. “One of the other guys there even said, ‘Man, you were so calm.’ I think the military training does help you keep your head in emergencies.”
CPL Jennings is an intelligence expert in the military and a member of the Bloomington-based 176th Cyber Protection Team under the 65th Troop Command, Illinois Army National Guard. In his civilian life, he is a broker for U.S. Energy Company in Itasca, Illinois.
By LTC Bradford Leighton, Illinois National Guard