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'He's daddy's hero': 9-year-old saves injured dad from drowning after diving accident in Florida

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 8/5/2020 Jake Newby, Pensacola News Journal

PENSACOLA, Fla. – Asaih Williams didn't stop to think when his dad dove into the Santa Rosa Sound and failed to emerge for several seconds. 

The Pensacola 9-year-old just acted

"All I remember was that he said he broke his neck and he said he was scared," Asaih recalled Wednesday, several days after the accident. "I had a little time limit in my head. If I jump in and the person I'm jumping with in that certain amount of time (doesn't come up), I go after them."

Asaih never took any true technical swim training — he just knew something went terribly wrong at that moment and he was the only person in a position to help.

The crucial moment came at the end of a relaxing day at Quietwater Beach for the Pensacola family of five on Saturday. The Williams family had just spent all day swimming and relaxing when, shortly after sunset, Asaih convinced his dad, Josh, to take one last dip before calling it a night. 

a young boy sitting on a bench in a park: Audrey Williams holds her daughter Abigail, 1, as she listens to her son Asaih Williams, 9, talk about saving his father’s life during a recent visit to Quietwater Beach. Asaih kept his father, Joshua Williams, afloat and pulled him back to shore after he dove from the dock into the shallow water and fractured his neck. © Gregg Pachkowski/gregg@pnj.com Audrey Williams holds her daughter Abigail, 1, as she listens to her son Asaih Williams, 9, talk about saving his father’s life during a recent visit to Quietwater Beach. Asaih kept his father, Joshua Williams, afloat and pulled him back to shore after he dove from the dock into the shallow water and fractured his neck.

"I was up on the shore with these two younger ones," said Audrey Williams, the mother of Asaih and the couple's two other young children. "They were kind of playing around where the ferry docks in, so it's about 15 feet deep right there. Then they went down a little bit further, to the right, at the end, where it was a lot more shallow. They couldn't see that well."

a little boy sitting on a bench: Asaih Williams, 9, talks about saving his father’s life during a recent visit to Quietwater Beach. Asaih kept his father, Joshua Williams, afloat and pulled him back to shore after he dove from the dock into the shallow water and fractured his neck. © Gregg Pachkowski/gregg@pnj.com Asaih Williams, 9, talks about saving his father’s life during a recent visit to Quietwater Beach. Asaih kept his father, Joshua Williams, afloat and pulled him back to shore after he dove from the dock into the shallow water and fractured his neck.

As Audrey stayed 50 feet away on the beach, occupied with her two little ones, Asaih jumped legs first into the water followed by Josh, who dove in head first. But the water was much shallower than the family — who only recently moved to Pensacola from Georgia — had expected. 

a couple of people posing for the camera: Audrey and Josh Williams pose for a photograph together. The couple's son recently rescued Josh from the water at Quietwater Beach after a diving accident. © Courtesy of Audrey Williams Audrey and Josh Williams pose for a photograph together. The couple's son recently rescued Josh from the water at Quietwater Beach after a diving accident.

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"Asaih saw that daddy wasn't coming up as quickly as he should have and he knew something was wrong," Audrey said. "He flipped him over, because Josh was on his stomach. Asaih flipped him over because he couldn't move." 

Despite a 100-pound weight difference between the father and son, Asaih channeled a bit of superhuman strength to turn his dad over and ensure he wasn't at risk of drowning, since he had very obviously just suffered a debilitating neck injury. 

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"Josh told me from the hospital, 'I knew when I impacted, my neck was gone,'" Audrey recalled. 

Asaih kept his dad flipped around on his back and slowly tugged him to shore for what seemed like an eternity until bystanders were able to take some of the burden from the boy. 

A man helped Asaih set his dad on land, while a woman called for an ambulance. 

Josh Williams was transported to Baptist Hospital Saturday night as a trauma alert. Soon after that he was transported to Sacred Heart for C1-C3 fusion surgery Monday. 

"He's working on trying to get his feeling back in his arms and legs. His left side is worse than his right," said Audrey, who added that the early prognosis is that Josh's injury won't be life-altering, and he won't require a wheelchair long term. "Doctors are saying he should have a full recovery. He's progressing pretty fast. He lifted his head and sat up in a chair (Tuesday)." 

Asaih visited with a doctor this week after the boy had experienced some pain in his right leg stemming from the jump. His mom said Asaih is just dealing with a little bit of inflammation and should be back to 100% by the weekend, if not sooner. 

"I'm so grateful that (Asaih) was there for him because if he wasn't there, my husband probably wouldn't be here today," Asaih said. "The fact that a 9-year-old thought so fast in thinking, 'Oh, I gotta help, I'm the only one here to help him.' He brought him all the way back to shore all by himself. He's daddy's hero, that's for sure."

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: 'He's daddy's hero': 9-year-old saves injured dad from drowning after diving accident in Florida

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