‘I prayed the whole time': Ala. cops recall lifesaving flood rescue of 87-year-old woman

The two officers, both Navy veterans, found the woman unresponsive in her submerged vehicle


By Carol Robinson
al.com

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Two Birmingham police officers, both U.S. Navy veterans, recounted their dramatic rescue of an 87-year-old woman found unresponsive in her submerged vehicle while she was on her way home from church.

The rescue began at 8:14 p.m. Wednesday during the height of the storm and by 8:42 p.m., the elderly woman was on her way to the hospital, alert and responsive.

Birmingham police Officers Anthony Evans (left) and Michael Burnett recount their dramatic flood rescue of an unresponsive 87-year old woman.
Birmingham police Officers Anthony Evans (left) and Michael Burnett recount their dramatic flood rescue of an unresponsive 87-year old woman. (Carol Robinson | crobinson)

“I prayed the whole time I was swimming, the whole time I got her out of the water, all night to make sure she was OK,’’ said Officer Michael Burnett, a 26-year veteran of the department.

Former Birmingham Police Chief Johnnie Johnson, 79, said he was following the woman home from church to make sure she arrived safely.

When they got to 28th Street North and 15th Avenue North under the train overpass in Norwood, the area was flooded, as it often is during heavy rainstorms.

“She didn’t see the water,’’ Johnson told AL.com. That’s when her vehicle could go no further and became submerged.

Johnson said he was about to go in after the woman – who he has known his entire life.

“I backed up and was about to go in the water,’’ Johnson said. “The police officer told me he would do it.”

The rescue was one of at least 26 made by Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service and Birmingham police Wednesday night, and the most serious, as the city was pounded by the torrential downpour.

Some Jefferson County cities recorded as much as eight to 10 inches of rain. Some weren’t as fortunate as the Birmingham rescue victim - two people were killed in Hoover when their vehicle was swept away, and two others were killed in separate incidents in north Alabama.

Burnett and Officer Anthony Evans, an 11-year department veteran, were first on the scene.

Burnett, who had worked under Chief Johnson, said his former chief told him that someone was trapped inside the vehicle.

“I jumped in the water and started swimming across the water, and he (Evans) jumped off the edge and dove in the water,’’ Burnett said.

“When we got to the car, we had to feel for the car,’’ he said. “You couldn’t see because it was so dark.”

Burnett went to the driver’s side and Evans went to the passenger’s side.

“I reached in, and I felt her, and I pulled her out,’’ Burnett said. “As I was swimming to the side (with the unresponsive woman), he checked to make sure that I was alright and then he went to make sure nobody else was in the car.”

They carried the woman to Birmingham Fire and Rescue medics who had arrived after the officers were already in the water.

“They already were swimming back toward dry land with the victim,’’ said BFRS Battalion Chief Sebastian Carrillo. “One officer swam that victim to shore and the other went back down to search for other victims that might have been in that vehicle.”

“She was pulled to dry land unresponsive,’’ Carrillo said. “Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service crews immediately began CPR and transported her to an area hospital. Before we got to the hospital, she was completely revived and conscious and talking to the paramedics on the rescue unit.”

“Our hats are off to the crews that were able to effect a successful outcome last night,’’ Carrillo said.

“Also, we want to say thank you to the officers who were there in front of us because had it not been for them, the rescue would not have been possible.”

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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