Alabaster father, son save man from drowning

Published 5:05 pm Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Alabaster resident Jamie Olliff and his son, A.J., kept a man from drowning on the Cahaba River on Sept. 6. (Contributed)

Alabaster resident Jamie Olliff and his son, A.J., kept a man from drowning on the Cahaba River on Sept. 6. (Contributed)

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – When 13-year-old Thompson Middle School student A.J. Olliff heard screams and saw a woman struggling to hold her husband above water on the Cahaba River on Sept. 6, he didn’t hesitate for a second.

“Your body just takes over,” A.J. said during a Sept. 8 interview. “It was terrifying. At first, I thought it was a kid.”

A.J. and his family were enjoying a swimming trip to the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Bibb County during the Labor Day weekend when disaster struck.

Because currents on the river were strong, A.J.’s father, Jamie, was waiting at the bottom of a chute kids were using to slide into the water. When Jamie Olliff turned the duty over to another group of adults, one of the men got swept away by the current.

“The guy couldn’t swim. He thought it was only a few feet deep, but it dropped to 16 feet really fast. He got caught in the current,” A.J. said.

When A.J. saw the man’s wife struggling to hold the victim above water, he jumped into the water, grabbed the man and began towing him to a shallow area in the middle of the river. Jamie Olliff swam to meet A.J., and the duo began performing chest compressions on the 250-pound man.

Because the Olliffs were on a rock about a foot underwater, they were having a difficult time performing chest compressions on the victim, Jamie Olliff said.

“A.J. kept his cool and put his knee under the guy’s back so I could start doing compressions,” Jamie Olliff said, crediting his son’s involvement in Boy Scouts and a previous Alabaster Fire Department CPR class with A.J.’s quick actions.

Another bystander swam to the middle of the river to relieve A.J., and soon the man – who was not breathing and had no pulse when he was pulled from the current – began coughing up water and breathing on his own.

West Blocton Rescue arrived on the scene with an ambulance, but had to wait about an hour before a boat could reach the location to transport the victim to the shore. By the time he was loaded into the ambulance, the man was sitting up and talking.

As of Sept. 8, the man had been discharged from the intensive care unit at an area hospital, and had suffered no brain damage as a result of the near-drowning.

“He was gone. He was sinking when A.J. reached him,” Jamie Olliff said. “If it wasn’t for him, he would have been on the bottom of the river. I’m proud of him.”

A.J. spoke humbly of the situation, and credited Boy Scouts and the AFD for teaching him the skills he needed to save a life.

“I’m very glad I went to those classes,” A.J. said.