The drawbridge over the Manistee River was being raised as a 37-foot sailboat passed beneath. Suddenly there were shouts and a woman screaming, “My baby! My baby!”
“I had no idea what was happening,” bridge operator Floyd Wetherell said. “But something told me to stop the bridge, so I did.”
The woman was pushing her 18-month-old granddaughter in a stroller on the bridge when it started to rise Thursday night.
They slid down the rising bridge toward the street, where the woman fell through a gap and plunged about 25 feet into the water. The stroller partially overturned and got wedged in the gap - suspended over the water.
“It could have been a tragedy,” Manistee Police Chief Bob Hornkohl said Friday.
The woman was pulled from the river by a passenger from the boat and suffered only minor injuries.
The baby, who had been strapped into the stroller, was freed without a scratch - despite having dangled over the blackened water for about 20 minutes as rescuers climbed girders beneath the bridge to reach her.
Witnesses said the woman and child already had started to cross the bridge when the warning gates were lowered and the bridge started rising, Hornkohl said.
But Wetherell, a former assistant police chief who has tended the bridge for a decade, insisted he looked across it and saw no one before activating the lift mechanism.
Police did not identify the woman and child. The county prosecutor will decide whether to file charges.
The Maple Street drawbridge, in the heart of downtown Manistee, is one of two crossing the river in the Lake Michigan tourist city. No one has died in a fall from the bridge since 1951, when a motorist drove a car into the river.