Chicago River rescue: Retired Navy pilot saves drowning man

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Julie Macholz happened to be walking her dog Toby Thursday afternoon when she heard a commotion, which led to her jumping into the Chicago River to save a man's life.

"I made the decision I had to go," said Macholz, a retired Navy jet pilot. "He was starting to go under."

Chicago Police say a 36-year-old man jumped in the river, attempting suicide. He was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in serious condition after he was rescued, according to police

Macholz became the impromptu rescuer. She had been walking her dog and noticed a handful of people standing near the river. The victim was in the water.

Macholz said she yelled at two men to throw life rings in the water, and another man nearby jumped into the river first, attempting to help the victim.

"I admire the heck out of the man who did jump in. I'm glad he's safe and he held onto the ring," she said.

But Macholz said the man started to flow with the current, pushing him away from the victim who was still in trouble. She jumped in next.

"God puts you in a place, and things happen," she said. "I just really hope he makes it. It's hard to believe that I was the person to go, but I'm just glad I was there."

ABC 7 Chicago captured the water rescue on camera as Macholz held the man with one arm and a life ring with another, swimming to the water's edge. Once she got there, first responders were starting to enter the water. Macholz said she turned to one of them.

"I told the guy behind me, I said, 'I'm just keeping his head above water until you tell me what else you want me to do,'" she said. "He was great. He said, 'You're doing great, you're doing everything just fine.' He even said I ought to get a job working with those guys."

Although Macholz said "it's been a few decades," she knows a lot about water rescue. She said she was a lifeguard in high school and college, and a water safety instructor in college too.

Additionally, she's a pioneer in the Navy jet community, one of the first women to qualify as an aggressor pilot in the A-4 Skyhawk.

"There's a lot of water training in the Navy and there's a lot of thinking on your feet and being trained to handle an emergency, so that helped," she said.

Afterwards, police say the man was hospitalized in serious condition. Macholz walked a block home with her dog. She could still see the first responders from her window, so she showed her daughter.

"That's why I"m wet," Macholz explained, "and my husband walked in right then."

John Macholz is also a retired jet pilot and currently flies a commercial airliner. The couple moved to Chicago a year ago. "I heard the story, and it didn't surprise me in a way. She's a take-charge kind of lady. I'm extremely proud," he said.

Their day ended with a margarita. "We toasted Julie and actually gave thanks that she was there for this guy. Give him maybe a second chance on life," her husband said.

It was also a moment to reflect, just a day after rescuing a man in need.

"The big picture of things," said Julie Macholz, "I'm just glad I was there."
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