Guardsman saves woman from freezing water

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. David H Lipp
  • 119th Wing
When Master Sgt. Grant Lonski, of the North Dakota National Guard's Fargo-based 119th Security Forces Squadron, woke up on the morning of Nov. 12, 2014, it's unlikely he knew the magnitude that his actions would play that day.
That afternoon, while performing his full-time duties as a North Dakota highway patrolman, Lonski waded into a freezing roadside slough to find and assist an 81 year-old woman, seated in neck deep water in the front seat of her car. His heroic actions likely saved the woman's life.
Merti Kurtti, of rural Rocklake, N.D., was driving her 2010 Toyota Yaris about 50 miles per hour on Highway 281, a few miles north of Churchs Ferry, N.D., during the first snow of the year for the area when her car plunged into about three feet of water at the bottom of a steep six-to-seven foot ditch bank.
"She is very lucky to be alive because those roads were very slippery and her car could have rolled, and that water is extremely cold," said Churchs Ferry mayor Paul Christenson, who looked over the scene after the rescue. "I helped another person out of a ditch south of town a short time later that day," added Christenson.
"I was driving to meet some friends at a church member meeting when I spun around twice and went right into the ditch," Kurtti said.
Thankfully, she had a cell phone in her car with her so she could call 911, because her car sat so low in the water below the steep edge of the ditch that it was difficult for passing cars on the road to see her, and at her age she was not able to remove herself from the car with the water holding her door shut and being unable to crawl out the window.
"I was worried I had called 911 too many times because it (the phone) stopped working at one point, and the water was coming in all around me. I had to hold it up out of the water," said Kurtti.
Lonski, who is a sergeant in the Lakota, N.D. office of the highway patrol got the call from 911 dispatch and responded urgently with his patrol car lights and siren activated.
"About 10 miles away we lost phone contact with the driver and I was worried she might be under water," Lonski said.
He found the entry point of the vehicle by locating the car tracks in the snow and waded into the water at the rear of the vehicle. He broke out the rear window to see into the car, as the car was only visible from about half-way up the windows all the way around.
"I walked into the water up to my pants belt on the driver's side, and all I could see was her head sticking up above the water and her hands holding the cell phone up. I was able to open the door and unbuckle her seatbelt," Lonski said.
"I told her to wrap her hands around my neck and I would carry her out," he added.
By this time a fire fighter from nearby Leeds, N.D. and an ambulance had arrived so Lonski could pass Kurtti off to them for transport and treatment for hypothermia at Mercy Hospital, Devils Lake, N.D.
Rescue workers estimate that Kurtti was in the ditch for 20-30 minutes.
Lonski served as the day-shift flight sergeant for base entry control point and managed 50-60 security forces personnel during a 2013 deployment to Bagram, Afghanistan, and credits his military training in the North Dakota Air National Guard and his law enforcement training in the North Dakota Highway Patrol for his actions that day.
Now, safe at home on her farmstead outside of Rocklake, Kurtti says she's incredibly grateful for Lonski's actions that day.
"I want to thank the patrolman and all of the rescue workers for saving me," Kurtti said.
Her son, Roger Kurtti, who also lives on the family farm, echoed her sentiment.
"I appreciate all he did for my mother. The whole family is grateful for the officer."