Retired Member Dives in Freezing Water to Save Woman
Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pictured right to left: Keith Smedema, wife Melinda, daughter Katie, son Daniel taken during Christmas 2012.

Even if it’s an abnormally warm winter's day in Indianapolis, the last thing you would want to do is dive into an icy cold river from a 40-foot bridge. But that didn't come across retired NATCA member Keith Smedema's mind when he took the plunge over the Old Washington Street Bridge in Indianapolis to save a woman who had fallen over the railing.

"I looked around and people were calling 911, but no one looked like they were going in," said Smedema. "I realized it was me or nobody. So I thought, 'I guess me then.'"

Smedema had been riding his bike that afternoon when, out of the corner of his eye, he caught the slightest glimpse of movement as he was crossing over the bridge. The next thing he knew, Smedema was preparing to dive into the White River to rescue a complete stranger. As he dived in, the first thought that went through his mind was, "There go my glasses."

Smedema had no idea how deep the water down below was, so he went in feet first. He landed in eight feet of freezing water, and he said "the shock of the cold sucked the breath right out of me."

He swam to the woman who was about 15 feet away and they both made their way to the sandbar in four feet of water. Smedema said at first he was worried he wouldn't be able to help her because his clothes and shoes weighed him down and made it hard to swim.

But they made it to the sandbar, and within five minutes they heard the sirens blaring, making their way to them. It wasn't until 35 minutes later that rescue boats reached the two.

Smedema and the woman were taken to the hospital; thankfully, neither were severely injured. Smedema was in three-feet deep in the water, so his legs were very cold and his feet were completely numb. When he went to the hospital, "they basically warmed me up."

Smedema's wife is thankful and he said when she called the hospital her first words were, "So are you trying to make me a widow?"

"I realized later that I also left my phone, wallet and keys in my pockets," said Smedema. "Luckily, I had zippers so I didn't lose my keys or anything. Of course my phone was ruined."

Smedema is now a local hero around the town, but he said his wife is trying to not let it get to his head. He graciously received four tickets to the Indianapolis Pacers game against the Los Angeles Lakers. He said it would have been nice to receive a new cell phone, but that unfortunately didn't happen.

Smedema is a retired NATCA controller from Indianapolis Center (ZID), but he's currently still involved in training, such as En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) training, at the facility.

Recently the woman he saved that day contacted him. He said she was very grateful for what he had done and would like to take him out sometime.