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CHICAGO (CBS) — A Chicago firefighter and the man whose life he saved while fishing in Lake Michigan were reunited Tuesday morning at his Near North Side firehouse.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports, firefighter Billy Miller had not seen Chuck Wahtola since last Wednesday afternoon, when both were fishing on the dock at Diversey Harbor.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports
Miller suddenly heard Wahtola, 67, screaming for help after falling into the freezing water. Miller ran over and reached out to the 340-pound man.
“The whole time he was in the water, I made sure I kept his head out of the water,” Miller said.
Wahtola had swum up to a dock, where Miller was holding him. Crews put a ladder in the water, hoping Wahtola could use it to climb out, but that didn’t work. A diver had to be sent out.
Finally, crews got Wahtola out and took him to Saint Joseph Hospital.
Was Wahtola ever attempted to give up during his 15 minutes in the icy water?
“Billy didn’t let that happen,” Wahtola said. “He said: ‘You’re under control. The team is on the way. You’re going to be fine.”
Wahtola’s wife, Julie, says the two men’s chance encounter was anything but chance.
“There’s no way in our mind that it could have been anything but God’s plan for him to have another day,” she said.
Wahtola and Miller say this is the start of a beautiful fishing friendship.