When one Colorado man visited his local lake, he assumed it would be a relaxing experience. But when he took to the water, his idyllic day out descended into the stuff of nightmares. As he waded through the gentle waves, he spotted the foot of a tiny child.
Angelo Mondragon is a plumber in Fort Collins, Colorado. This is a dad who works hard, so sometimes he enjoys escaping to the country at weekends – and on one Sunday in 2015, he did just that, deciding to visit Windsor Lake with his loved ones.
Windsor Lake is just a 25-minute drive from Fort Collins, and the beauty spot is the ideal place for a family day out. Here, groups can enjoy many recreational activities, among them boating, hiking and swimming.
Mondragon and his family visited the lake in July 2015. Now at this time of year, temperatures in Fort Collins and the surrounding areas can soar to 87 °F, so Mondragon thought it would be a good idea to cool off in the inviting water.
So, Mondragon walked towards the shore and dipped his toes into the lake, and from there he slowly entered the water and began wading around until he was half submerged. It was an idyllic scene. Unfortunately, however, things were about to take a disturbing turn.
Yes, as Mondragon enjoyed the calming effects of the lapping waves, he felt something under the water. The object felt soft as it brushed against his leg, so instinctively the father turned around to see what it was – and the sight he saw was completely horrifying.
“It felt like something you normally wouldn’t feel in the water,” Mondragon told USA Today. “I did sort of a back kick to bring up whatever it was. Then I saw the bottom of a baby’s foot float up.”
There, just below the water, Mondragon could see the tiny toes of a little child. At first, the whole scene confused him. Then, all at once, the terrifying reality of the situation began to set in.
Mondragon had discovered the body of a four-year-old girl floating in the water, and although the girl was alive, she was nevertheless unconscious. As a result, Mondragon knew he would have to act fast to have any chance of saving her life.
“The baby’s toes surfaced. I saw the bottom of her feet surface, and that, right then, at that moment, that became my child,” Mondragon told KCNC-TV. “I was yelling, screaming, terrified. So, I sounded very terrified but I felt an amazing calm.”
Using all of his might, Mondragon was able to drag the toddler to the surface. He then began to shout for the child’s family and started yelling for an ambulance. “I grabbed her and carried her limp body to the shore,” he told USA Today. “The girl was already blue. She wasn’t breathing.”
Luckily, two off-duty nurses were also visiting the lake that day, and alongside Mondragon they performed CPR until paramedics arrived. Then when the emergency services got there, they immediately rushed the girl to the Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora.
Once the emergency response team reached the hospital, doctors worked to save the child, who was later named as Sitlali Hernandez. And what soon became clear was that Mondragon’s quick thinking had saved the girl’s life. After all, if he had not stumbled upon her, who knows what might have happened?
“If I was not in that right spot at the right time, it could have been a search and rescue mission,” Mondragon told USA Today. “As I told the little girl’s mom, when I saw the baby’s toes, that became my baby.”
Luckily, Hernandez had not sustained any long-term damage during the accident, and the following day a spokesperson from the hospital confirmed that the little one was stable and recovering well. She was so well, in fact, that she was able to receive a visit from Mondragon.
And the transformation that Hernandez had made eased Mondragon’s worries. The last time he had seen her, she was limp and unconscious. Now, she was wide awake and well enough to thank her hero with a hug.
That said, the terrifying incident got Mondragon thinking about the safety regulations at Windsor Lake. According to the Town of Windsor website, swimming in the lake is permitted. However, visitors must stay within a designated area which is marked out with buoys and ropes.
The website also says that swimming is at visitors’ own risk, because there are no lifeguards on duty in the area. It further states that children under the age of nine must be accompanied by an adult when in the water.
However, for Mondragon, a father, these regulations were simply not good enough, so he got to thinking about how he could make the lake a little bit safer. With this in mind, the concerned dad began meeting with local businesses in the hope that they would donate life vests for families who don’t have the means to buy them.
Mondragon believes these vests could mean the difference between life and death. “The baby was not wearing a life vest,” he said. “If she was wearing one, the whole situation could have been different.”