A fast-acting witness and crew of firefighters rescued a man, his son, and his nephew from the Pacoima Wash on Saturday afternoon after the children fell from their bicycles into swift-moving water, authorities said.
The incident recalled the drowning three years ago of Adam Bischoff, the Woodland Hills teen-ager who was swept away by a tide of storm water as he bicycled within a stretch of the Los Angeles River flood channel. But this time all three family members emerged alive.
Edward Wieting, 27, his 4-year-old son, Christopher, and his 8-year-old nephew, Robert Johnson, were cycling near the wash about 2:50 p.m. when the two boys fell into the water and Wieting jumped in to rescue them, said Sgt. Michael Harvey, of the San Fernando Police Department.
All three were swept away by the 16 m.p.h. current of storm water that was two to three feet deep. They were spotted by San Fernando city maintenance workers, who called for help.
Meanwhile, Ralph Hernandez, 38, of San Fernando, who was playing baseball nearby, heard the family's screams and, along with several other adults, waded into the water. Forming a human chain, they successfully pulled Wieting and his nephew from the wash.
"I was screaming my brains out, 'Get them out of there!' " said Hernandez, standing in his soaking-wet baseball uniform after the rescue.
But when Hernandez went out to retrieve Christopher, who was pinned against a bridge abutment by the fast-moving water, he, too, was caught.
"The water's not that deep, it's just going too fast," he said. "And the floor's slippery; that's what made it tough."
A helicopter finally plucked the 4-year-old from the wash, with a firefighter cradling the boy in his arms as the cable lifted them both to safety. The child, who was suffering from severe hypothermia, was airlifted to Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, said Los Angeles City Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey.
Hernandez was then pulled from the water by a swift-water team employing ropes thrown from the banks of the wash. He declined medical treatment.
Christopher was taken to Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills with mild hypothermia, and is expected to be released today, Harvey said.
Although Humphrey called Hernandez a good Samaritan for trying to help those caught in the wash, he warned others against trying the same thing when they see someone trapped in fast-moving water.
"Each year dozens of people die trying to make a river rescue," he said. "It is vitally important that people who see an emergency contact 911 instead of trying to make the rescue themselves."
Times staff writer Abigail Goldman contributed to this story.