Islander lauded for plane rescue

MARBLEHEAD Joel Hutchison swam for his life when his father's plane crashed in Lake Erie.
JACOB LAMMERS
May 24, 2010

MARBLEHEAD

Joel Hutchison swam for his life when his father's plane crashed in Lake Erie.

The 7-year-old boy screamed for help. And at first he heard only waves.

But then came a faint cry from his rescuer: "I'm coming. I'm coming. Keep screaming."

Chuck Herndon, 60, of Kelleys Island plucked Hutchison out of the water and brought him to safety on his row boat.

Two months later, Hutchison and his family, all of Lima, were on hand to honor the man they consider a hero.

"If it weren't for him, this little guy wouldn't be here," said Joyce Hutchison, Joel's mother. "He definitely deserves any kind of recognition they can give."

Herndon received the Public Service Commendation from the U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday at U.S. Coast Guard Station Marblehead.

"It's an incredible story of survival and courage," said Capt. Patrick W. Brennan, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Detroit. "He's a great public servant and genuine hero.

"That little boy now has his whole life ahead of him (because of Herndon)."

Herndon said he searched for the boy for 15 minutes off Kelleys Island.

Herndon said he still remembers Hutchison's first words: "Are you a Christian?"

"You can't forget something like that," he said. "Everything lined up for (Joel) that day."

Joyce Hutchison said that it was a miracle Herndon saved her son.

"It's absolutely amazing," she said. "I'm forever grateful to him."

She said her family has adjusted to life without her husband, Jeff Hutchison, and her son, Jeremy David Hutchison, who were both killed in the plane crash.

"It's been pretty tough. Ups and downs," she said. "We're all adjusting to the new norm. Overall, we're doing pretty good."

Herndon, dressed in a sweater and sporting a beard, smiled graciously as he accepted the plaque honoring his heroism.

"I feel like it's a nice honor and I'm appreciative," Herndon said. "There were a lot of people here who work to help people, and I'm glad I could join them."

Joel Hutchison, now 8, shrugged his shoulders and smiled sheepishly when asked if he was a hero for swimming to safety.

"Nah, I wouldn't call myself a hero," he said.

"He's just a strong little kid," Herndon said.