LOWELL, Mass. -- A Lowell man whom troopers saved in a dangerous rescue on the Merrimack River last month is thanking the men he calls his heroes.
On the eight-degree night of Jan. 3, 24-year-old Raveth Than, alone and distraught, jumped from a bridge in Lowell, plunging into the icy water below.
"I was just so emotional, just crying. I was at the park at first, and I texted my friends and family, gave them a note, saying, 'I'm going to leave. I'm going to be gone,'" Than said. "I went to the Red Bridge... And I just jumped."
What was almost his last day alive turned out to be the first day of a new life - one full of gratitude, meaning and a message for others in despair: #suicide is never the answer. The story of an incredible river rescue and a turning point in life on @boston25 at 10. #Lowell pic.twitter.com/8zIBiHDAsN— Christine McCarthy (@ChristineMNews) February 21, 2018
Than, who can't swim, instantly thought he was dead, but soon realized he wasn't - and he didn't want to be.
"I was in the water, and it was really deep, and I don’t know how I floated back up," Than said. "I just looked around scared for my life, like, 'Wow, this is insane. I made a huge mistake.'"
A man nearby heard Than's screams for help and called 911, Than told Boston 25 News Tuesday.
Than made it to shallower water, clinging to a rock and praying to his sister who died last year.
Police and firefighters quickly arrived, but rescue boats couldn't make it to him through the ice and rocks.
As Than was losing consciousness, rescue crews requested the Massachusetts State Police Air Wing step in and make the rescue.
Troopers Russell Phippen and John Hazelrigg had been providing a light from their helicopter on the river for crews to work; they didn't have the training or gear to make such a rescue themselves.
"They went back up, and I really thought they left me," Than said. "I lost hope. This is it. This how I’m going to die. Everybody’s watching me from down on the bridge."
But seeing Than struggle to stay alive, only his head above the water, the two-man crew decided to try to pull him from the water.
Pilot Hazelrigg maneuvered the aircraft as close to Raveth as safely possible, with the skids on the base of the chopper under water. Phippen, who had fastened himself in, reached out as far as he could and grabbed Than.
"We saw him, what we believe to be, hypothermic, [having] difficulties in the water, trying to even keep himself out of the water," Phippen told Boston 25 News following the rescue last month. "I was able to grab him and just grab a piece of him, and I was able to grab a little more."
"If we didn’t do something, I don’t think he stood much of a chance," Hazelrigg added.
Phippen pulled Than into the helicopter and threw himself on top of him. With the door open, the chopper rushed Than to Lowell General Hospital. The troopers feared he wouldn't survive the trip.
At the hospital, Than was treated for hypothermia. He received eight stitches for a cut to his chin, but scans and tests determined Than had no broken bones or serious injuries. Within a week he had recovered, with only numbness in his fingers, and returned home.
Since then, Than reached out to the men who saved his life, and last week, he visited them. They showed him around the helicopter and described the rescue.
"Awesome guys. Incredible guys. They went above and beyond the call of duty," Than said. "They're heroes in my heart... They don’t see (themselves) as heroes; they were just doing their job, but they're always going to be in my heart."
What was almost the last day for Than turned out to be the first day of his new life - one with new meaning and gratitude.
"I'm really blessed to get a second chance," Than said.
Than said he is happy now, finding strength in his family and friends. He hopes his second chance is a reminder to others in despair that suicide is never the answer.
"It's not worth it," Than said. "Everybody out there going through the same thing, its' not worth it. There's a lot of love out there."
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