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16-year-old hailed a ‘hero’ after likely saving man’s life in Otonabee River

16-year-old hailed a 'Hero' after likely saving 18-year-old man's life from the Otonabee River in Lakefield on Friday.

A 16-year old grocery store employee is being hailed ‘a hero’ after likely saving an 18-year-old man’s life.

It all happened in Lakefield, Ont., on Friday when the teen heard calls for help coming from the Otonabee River.

Around 5:15 p.m., 16-year-old Ryan McIlwain was getting some fresh air on his work break from Lakefield Foodland. It was supposed to be a half-hour lunch break, but it turned into a 90-minute water rescue.

McIlwain was startled by someone calling frantically for help in the water near the shore of the Otonabee River.

“He couldn’t get much out,” McIlwain recalled. “All he just said was help and help; he was choking on water and everything.”

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So that’s when McIlwain did the unthinkable. He sped his car down the road to the spot nearest the man in the water. There, he took off his work uniform, dove in and swam about 25 metres to the man.

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“I grabbed him, told him to lay on his back, focus on his breathing, just calm down,” said McIlwain. “Once I grabbed him he was still [flailing] around. I think he was just really shocked on what was going on.”

McIlwain said it was hard to grab him, but once he did, he swam him to shore where a passerby helped.

“He was in tears,” he said. “18 years old, pretty young guy — he was just shaken up. Couldn’t get much out of him.”

A female passerby who watched the whole rescue unfold, meanwhile, called 911.

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Today, McIlwain is hailed a community hero. His boss from Foodland sent out tweets praising the teen:

McIlwain said his phone has now been ringing off the hook all day Monday.

“Still trying to process this; haven’t slept in a few days, so it’s something,” said McIlwain.

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For himself, McIlwain has one wish.

“I’m hoping to meet him sometime, just to meet him for the better reason, the better circumstances,” said McIlwain.