Man rescued from Elkhart River thanks firefighter in person

Local News

Butch VanHook is ready to put what happened on Thursday behind him. But before that he wanted to say thanks to Ligonier Firefighter Eric Bench. 

The two met again Saturday morning after Bench rescued Butch from the Elkhart River earlier this week. 

“I’m glad he was there,” Butch said. “I’m glad everyone was there that was saying stuff while I was out there waiting.”

Eric went out onto the ice and swam across where Butch was hanging onto a branch. Butch had fallen in the Elkhart River behind his home while trying to save his dog Fluke from the water. First responders tried throwing ropes to him, but he couldn’t get a hold. It was Eric who wore a special suit, got over to Butch, threw a harness over him – and the two were pulled to safety. Butch was in the freezing water for about 20 minutes.

“Another 10 minutes it could have been a whole different story,” Eric said. 

Luckily, it wasn’t. 

Eric never recommends going out onto ice to try to save an animal and in hindsight Butch wouldn’t, but at the time he felt he needed to. 

“It was silly to go out there, but like I said, it was my dog and I didn’t think that she was going to make it much longer. So, I tried to help the best I could and it just turned out bad for a while, but good now.”

Butch will continue counting his blessings. He’s got his family, his dog, and a friend in a firefighter he’ll always be greatful to. 

“It actually is a very good feeling that we made a difference that day because some days it never is that way,” Eric said. 

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