WEST LAFAYETTE — Rusty Bluck had no idea when he woke Wednesday morning that he would risk his life that day to save someone who had fallen into a perplexing yet life-threatening situation.
Bluck, a teacher at Cambridge Middle School, arose that day to sub-freezing weather. He had checked the thermometer and saw the mercury was standing at just 6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Despite the cold, by late morning he was out working in his yard.
"It might have warmed up some by then," he allowed.
Then, at about 11:30, the course of his day changed dramatically.
"My neighbor came running down the road and said he needed my help," Bluck reported. "He said his wife had driven into Wills Creek."
Bluck’s neighbors are Michelle and Dave Allen.
Bluck grabbed a tow strap, and the men jumped into his pickup truck. As Bluck drove toward the scene of the accident, Dave Allen was talking to his wife via cellphone. She relayed that she was still inside her vehicle and that water was coming in around the edges of the doors.
When the men arrived at the scene, Bluck recognized just how perilous the situation was.
"I told myself, ‘Don’t do anything stupid. Just wait for the fire department to get here,’" he said.
Realizing that he had left his residence without telling his wife, Melissa, that he was leaving or why he was doing so, he snapped a photo of the entrapped Jeep Grand Cherokee and sent the photo to her.
Bluck again surveyed the scene as possible scenarios ran through his mind: What if the current pushed the vehicle into even deeper water? The woman had been in the ice-encrusted water for more than 20 minutes. What if hypothermia were to set in?
At that moment, he experienced a moment of clarity.
"Something happened," he said. "It was like everything slowed down, and I could think super clear and was super focused. It was a great feeling."
Moving carefully, he ventured onto the ice until he reached the Cherokee. He asked Michelle whether she could open the window. She couldn’t. So Bluck put a foot on a door, grabbed the luggage rack and pulled himself onto the roof. That caused the Jeep to rock and, for a moment, he feared it might overturn.
He asked her to open the driver’s side door, which she was able to do. At that point, he could see that she was almost waist deep in water.
He had her put one foot against the door and try to stand up. Holding onto the luggage rack with one hand, he put his other arm around her waist and lifted her onto the vehicle’s hood. From there, he was able to push her onto the roof.
He then asked her to slowly lower herself onto an unbroken section of the ice. She did so, but the ice gave way under her, and she plunged shoulder deep into the water.
Bluck jumped into the water, grabbed her around the legs and lifted her onto the ice, only to have it break again. He had to repeat the action six times before the ice held. He then instructed her to crawl toward land.
Knowing that the ice would not support the weight of both of them, Bluck waited until Michelle was about 30 feet in front of him before he tried to lift himself onto the ice. It was to no avail, as the ice kept breaking.
By that time, he was breathing with difficulty and his arms and legs were weakening.
"All I thought about was my wife and three little girls waiting for me," he said.
Finally, he reached shallower water, and he emerged with his legs feeling "so heavy I could barely pick them up."
He got back into his truck, Dave Allen lifted his wife into the truck and the three of them went back to Bluck’s home to recuperate and to sort out what had happened.
The way they figure it, Wills Creek had overflowed its banks and the water had frozen atop the roadway, only to have snow drift over it. Michelle had no idea she was driving on ice over water. They estimated the Cherokee had traveled across 75 yards of ice before it fell through.
"The experience really put things into perspective about what’s important," Bluck said. "Don’t stress over small things and enjoy your family every day.
"God must have been watching over us, because so many things could have gone wrong."