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Pacific edition, Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A brother and sister nearly drowned Sunday at the new water park at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, but a dramatic rescue by pool staff and Air Force families saved both youngsters, according to military officials.

An on-duty lifeguard saw the boy, 8, and girl, 10, underwater in the lap section of the Splish and Splash water park around 2:45 p.m., according to a spokesman for Camp Humphreys.

The pool’s lifeguards and airmen from Osan Air Base pulled the siblings from the 6.6-foot-deep water, Humphreys spokesman Robert McElroy said Monday afternoon.

A lifeguard started CPR on the boy, who coughed up water after only three or four breaths, according to Army Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein, who was at the pool on Sunday and witnessed the rescue.

Reviving the girl took much longer, the general said.

“She was absolutely lifeless,” said Stein, the deputy commanding general of U.S. Forces Korea (Advance Element), during a phone interview on Monday. “It was very scary. It could have been a sad day.”

But two bystanders made all the difference, the general said.

Claire Darnell, a registered nurse, took over resuscitation duties from Johanna Gagnon, another bystander, both McElroy and Stein said.

“Within a few minutes and lots of work, the girl let out a loud cry and began breathing on her own,” Stein wrote Sunday night in a message to general officers in South Korea about the accident.

Both children were taken to the medical clinic at Humphreys, were found to be all right and were released to their parents, McElroy said.

Their parents were at the water park at the time, though officials did not know on Monday how the children ended up in the lap section of the pool, McElroy said.

The children and their parents’ names were not immediately available.

“It happened very fast, but our lifeguards were on top of it,” McElroy said. “Everybody hates when an accident like this happens. The lifeguards are well-trained and attentive. This is proof of that.”

Lifeguard Jason Hechtman saw the children underwater, McElroy said. The kids apparently had swallowed water and sunk to the bottom, he said.

Hechtman jumped in and pulled the children up, McElroy said. Then three airmen joined the rescue.

Maj. Bart Darnell of the 51st Operations Group, 51st Air Wing, helped pull the girl from the pool, according to Stein. Maj. Alan Selkey of the 607th Air Operations Center and Maj. Gregory Gagnon, who also works at Osan, helped in the effort, Stein wrote in his message to officers.

Humphreys’ base commander, Col. John Dumoulin, military police and an ambulance crew responded to the pool, Stein wrote. Lifeguards cleared all water areas during the crisis, McElroy said.

The $7 million water park opened in late May, the first of its kind on an American military base in South Korea. It is run by Morale, Welfare and Recreation and has 16 lifeguards on staff, McElroy said. In addition to the lap pool, the park has a deeper diving area, two spiral slides, a children’s play area and a dry playground with a volleyball court.

While McElroy stressed it’s a safe facility, “accidents happen,” he said.

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