KELSO, Wash. – The body of a man who rescued a young girl from drowning in the Cowlitz River, then disappeared in the water, was found Saturday, according to Cowlitz County authorities.
The body of the 20-year-old man – identified by Cowlitz County authorities as Alan Heck – was found 50 yards downriver from where he was last seen. The Longview Daily News reported that Heck’s first name was Allen.
Authorities said Heck went into the water after seeing the child in distress Friday afternoon. He was last seen after he handed the girl to a group of people once he neared the shore.
Heck, who did not know the girl, never made it to shore.
“It’s incredibly heroic,” said Capt. Mark Nelson of the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office. “Honestly, I’m sure it was not his intention to give up his life for this girl, but he very selflessly went into the water.”
The girl’s age was unknown. Her family left immediately after she was returned to shore, Nelson said.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Kelly Parker said Friday that the child appeared unhurt.
Heck’s disappearance into the water sparked a search by local and county agencies, and the Coast Guard, which dispatched a helicopter.
“Our thanks to all of the volunteers who came and assisted in the location of Mr. Heck’s body,” Nelson said. “This will bring some well-needed closure for Mr. Heck’s family. They must be incredibly proud, even in their loss.”
The Cowlitz River’s waters are cold and hide deep channels, Nelson said.
“The little girl wandered into the shallow area, stepped into the channel and started to go down. Heck observed this, he ran, jumped in, located her, pushed her back to the surface, and held her above the water until somebody could grab her. I’m guessing the channel was too steep, and he was probably trying to swim against the current; he wasn’t able to do that for the both of them.”
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