11-year-old Survivor of Floodwaters Saves Her Family

As Maddie McRae struggled to reach the shore after an icy plunge, she had only one thought: "I Have to Save My Family--Now."

By Tamara Jones from Reader's Digest | April 2009

While the Coast Guard’s swift-water rescue team carried the other family out, Fire Capt. Chuck Spittles struggled to find a way to get to McRae. He and his crew dragged a 35-foot extension ladder from one of their trucks to the creek bank and maneuvered it as close to the SUV as they could get-about ten feet above McRae. The lightest firefighter, Lt. Aaron Burris, crawled down the makeshift gangplank with a lifeline. McRae cinched it to the three-year-old so that Burris could hoist the toddler up and hand him to another rescuer at the end of the ladder. They repeated the drill with the two-year-old.

Finally, McRae grabbed the ladder and was hoisted up. Once back on land, her numb legs gave out. More than an hour had passed since the ordeal began.

Maddie raced into her mother’s arms. “She hugged me for, like, five minutes,” Maddie remembers. McRae and the two children were treated for hypothermia at a local hospital and sent home that night.

Revisiting the accident site in daylight, Spittles was dumbfounded. The only branch that Maddie could possibly have grasped was maybe four inches in diameter—too flimsy to have supported her. “I still don’t know how she got off that rig,” he marvels.

Maddie and her mother went back to Fawcett Creek before the SUV was hauled out and were also unable to figure out how Maddie had made it across. Not that they dwell on it. Maddie accepted an award for her heroism, but she’s happier just getting back to her sports teams and her youth group. But her mother considers the rescue–like her daughter–”nothing short of a miracle.”