It was supposed to be a fun, first-time sledding experience for Olivia Heid, 8, and her little brother, RJ, 4. However, things quickly took a turn for the worse when they hit an icy pond. Thankfully, five local teenage boys were there to save their lives.
Olivia and RJ spent their Thursday morning playing in the backyard of their Harmony Road home in Middletown, NJ. The kids basked in New Jersey’s first good snowfall in two years. Needless to say, it was a perfect day.
After lunch, their mom, Stephanie Irlbeck, decided to make their day even better by proposing a new activity for them to try: sledding.
They first went to the sled hill at Holmdel Park but found that it was closed, so Stephanie took to Facebook to ask what other good sled hills were there. People recommended the Beacon Hill Country Club, so they went there next.
“We have two saucer sleds, but my husband insisted on bringing this big blow-up inner tube sled,” Stephanie told Patch. “We spent half an hour sitting in the car blowing that thing up.”
Little did they know that that inflatable sled would later end up saving their kids’ lives.
They arrived at the location between 2 and 3 p.m. The main hill was too crowded and steep, so they chose a much smaller hill to the left with less of an incline. Stephanie and her husband noticed there was a pond to the right of the hill, but they didn’t think anything of it as it was quite far away.
The first run went just fine. Olivia and RJ climbed back up the hill to give it another go. Olivia sat in the inflatable and RJ sat on his sister’s lap. Their dad, Rich Heid, gave them a big push down the hill, and that’s when the trouble began.
The siblings hit a patch of ice near a tree, causing their blow-up sled to ricochet and fly right into the pond. It floated for a while before it sank slowly, carrying with it the two little kids.
At the time, high school freshmen Kieran Foley, 14, Joseph Dietrich, 14, Drew Scalice, 14, Ryan Day, 15, and Tyler Armagan, 14, were there to sled. They were throwing rocks into the pond to see if it had frozen over when they heard people shouting up the hill above where they were standing. Upon seeing the kids slowly sinking into the pond, Kieran jumped right into the water.
“I didn’t see anyone else be able to do anything, so I just jumped in,” he recalled. “I was like, whatever. It wasn’t deep so I could walk right over to them. I picked them up and my friends formed a chain and we got the boy first, and handed him to my friends. Then I got the girl.”
The siblings, both wearing their heavy winter gear, were soaking wet. The four-year-old boy began to cry when he was back on land, and in an attempt to cheer him up, Ryan asked him what he wanted from Santa this Christmas.
“I couldn’t get down the hill fast enough,” said Stephanie. “There were other families at the top of the hill and we were all screaming. What was amazing to me was to see the boys immediately know how to form a human chain. I don’t know how they knew to do that. The whole thing is incredible.”
Kieran and Drew were both members of Middletown Boy Scouts Troop 47, which could explain why they knew how to do that.
Kieran’s boot got sucked off in the pond, so he actually did the whole rescue barefoot. Tyler’s phone fell into the water while another teen lost his headphones. They were all soaking wet when they got out.
Stephanie and Rich offered them money but they all refused. Rich took off his pants and boots and gave them to Kieran, and the latter accepted.
Rich shook all of their hands as a gesture of gratitude and said they could give them a ride home, but they refused the offer again.
“They were insanely humble. They didn’t want anything, they just wanted to make sure my kids were OK. They kept saying to my kids, ‘You’re safe now. You’re going to get a hot chocolate and a warm bath at home.’” Stephanie recalled.
The couple raced to get the kids home so they wouldn’t get hypothermia. On Thursday night, Stephanie posted on a Middletown community Facebook page, hoping to find the kids’ parents and thank them in person.
“We really thought, or hoped, anyone would do the same for us, or anyone,” Drew told NJ.com. “I mean, we were kinda brought up that way, to help if someone needs help.”
While Kieran was the one in the water directly moving the kids, he said the rescue was a group effort.
“Everybody played a part in rescuing these children,” he said. “It was a big team effort and I’m grateful they got out of the water in time and nothing bad happened or anything, because it could have been much worse.”
Jason Foley, Kieran’s dad, said he is incredibly proud of his son and his friends.
“He and his friends are just like that,” he said. “Just good, all-American kids.”
The lives of two children were saved, thanks to the bravery and quick-thinking of these Middletown teens.
Kieran Foley, Joseph Dietrich, Drew Scalice, Ryan Day, and Tyler Armagan deserve to be recognized for their heroic deed. Watch them below and share this story to make them known!