A 23-year-old who jumped into frigid waters to save an 83-year-old was named a Carnegie Hero.
The splash of a body hitting frigid lake water on a quiet morning in November 2010 began a lightning-fast sequence of dramatic events that turned a young Minnesota man into an honored hero.
Mitchell Mochinski, 23, then of Lester Prairie, Minn., was named a Carnegie Hero last week for saving a stranger's life that day. He was one of 23 people selected nationwide for the honor, given annually by the Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. Five of the 23 honored this time died during their rescue attempts.
Mochinski, a sales representative with Frito-Lay in Coon Rapids, was on vacation with his girlfriend, Laura Kahmeyer, 23, and their baby when they saw a figure fall 15 feet from a bridge between Upper Gull and Gull Lake in Lake Shore, Minn.
They looked at each other for a second, unsure of what had happened. "I thought I saw a man lift his arm and his head," Mochinski recalled last week.
He and Kahlmeyer raced to the steep, rocky bank opposite the man. Kahmeyer, who was already on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, told Mochin- ski, "Jump in!"
He did. He was wearing hunting boots, two pairs of pants, a sweatshirt and a T-shirt as he swam to the 81-year-old man, who was washed face-down against a bridge pier 30 yards away.
When Mochinski got there, he secured the man and used his legs to push them both from one pillar to the next until they reached land.
The man was unconscious when Kahmeyer reached out to help him and Mochinski from the water. Kahmeyer, trained in CPR, straightened his head and opened his mouth. "He started gasping for air and I turned him on his side. That's when the cops showed up," she said.
As an ambulance sped away with the man, Kahmeyer said, "I remember looking at my phone; it was only 11:30 -- a matter of minutes."
The man survived his ordeal in the water.
"When it happened, I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to do it," Mochinski said.
Walter Rutkowski, executive director of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, said, "The primary requirement for being awarded the Carnegie Medal is that you have to risk your life to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the life of somebody else."
Many people who try to save a drowning victim end up drowning themselves. Indeed, two of this year's five medal recipients who died while attempting their rescues were drowning victims.
Last week, after the awards were announced, Kahmeyer told her and Mochinski's 3-year-old daughter, Kina: "Your daddy's a hero.
"Like Superman," Kina replied.
Kahmeyer, who lives with Mochinski and Kina in Green Isle, Minn., said, "This will be a story that she gets to tell all her classmates."
Kristian Hernandez • 612-673-4217