It's a lonely feeling, Nathan Nelson thought, waiting to die.
Strength had all but left his body; his eyesight and hearing had begun to fade. As he struggled to stay afloat, the 32-year-old Omahan was certain his time was up.
“I was all alone,” Nelson said Monday. “I didn't know if anyone was coming after me.”
Then, out of nowhere, he felt a strong arm grab his collar to pull him to safety.
Nelson and his mother, Kay Dunn, 55, and her dog, Buster, were rescued by five Omaha police officers Sunday afternoon after their boat capsized in Carter Lake. The officers plunged into the frigid lake, endangering themselves, and fought choppy waters to bring all three to safety.
Nelson and Dunn met the officers Monday to share hugs and thank them for their bravery.
“They saved my son's life, they saved my life and, yes, they saved Buster's life,” a teary Dunn said.
The ordeal began about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, a few hours after Nelson, Dunn and Buster — a 13-year-old long-haired Pekingese-dachshund mix — took Nelson's new fishing boat out to test its new motor.
As they began to head to shore, Nelson made a turn that caused the boat to capsize, tossing them into the lake.
Officer Kelly Murphy was patrolling the area at that moment and saw the boat capsize. She said she thought, “'Did I really just see what I saw?' It was God's grace that I was where I was.”
Murphy called for help. Within minutes, Officer Mark Kiley was at her side. The two took off their gun belts, plunged into the water and headed for the boaters, who were between 50 and 75 yards from shore.
Murphy grabbed Buster, and both officers got to Dunn and pulled her to safety. Nelson, though, was farther away, bobbing in the water. The officers knew he was close to drowning.
“He didn't have much time left,” Kiley recalled.
By this point, Officers Bryant Wheatley, Jake Bettin and Nick Andrews had arrived, and they also jumped into the water. The shock of the cold water initially made swimming difficult, they said.
But they kept going, and Andrews reached Nelson first. His was the strong arm that grabbed Nelson and pulled him to shore. In the water, Andrews tried to calm Nelson, telling him to try and float on his back.
The officers themselves were struggling as they tried to save the boaters.
“You just couldn't breathe” in the cold water, Bettin said. Andrews said he knew he'd be OK because the other officers “had my back.”
None of the officers were trained in water rescue. Kiley and Andrews, though, are former college lifeguards.
All said they did what anyone would do to help if faced with that situation.
The boaters and Officer Kiley were treated for exposure and early stage hypothermia. Buster was fine.
The boat was towed from the water. Nelson could get it back in a few weeks, and he isn't worried about potential damage to the craft.
“I can take the loss of the boat,” he said. “I'm just grateful to be here.”
Added his mother: “It's going to be a wonderful Thanksgiving.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-3100, email@example.com