By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter
HARRIMAN (WATE) - Three boys had to be airlifted to UT Medical Center Saturday after they fell through a sheet of ice in Roane County.
As of Saturday night, two of the boys are stable and one in serious condition at the hospital.
Officials say it happened on the Little Emory River off Watts Bar Lake in the Blair community. Neighbors say the boys were celebrating a birthday and were on the river looking for a place to go ice fishing.
The incident happened near Robert Ceo's home on Lakewood Estates Lane.
"A little boy was banging on my door saying call 911, call 911," Ceo said.
Two of the boys fell in, and eventually a third while he was trying to rescue the others.
"They were extremely cold, they were really rigid. One of the boys I know he said he couldn't see at the time," said Melissa Loy, a neighbor who witnessed the rescue.
Officials with the Roane County Rescue Squad say the boys were stuck in the water for nearly an hour.
Witnesses say the boys may have not made it out alive, if it weren't for a local pastor who helped.
"They were really having issues trying to get across to the boys. They had to break the ice, because the ice was so thick," said Loy.
The Roane County Rescue Squad says they had trouble getting to the boys since the bottom of their boat was flat and wasn't able to handle thick sheets of ice.
"We don't have the equipment to do that. It was a makeshift to do what we could to get there and bust the ice to try to get the boats to float," said David Branam with the Roane County Rescue Squad.
Loy said she called her local pastor - Neal Crass of Big Emory Church, who had a boat. With the help of community members, the boat was lifted into the river and was able to shred through the sheets of the ice to get to the boys.
The rescue squad says the v-shaped bottom could cut through the ice, unlike theirs, which has a flat bottom.
The squad says the pastor's boat could have made a difference between life and death.
"That definitely made all the difference in the world. We weren't able to come in from our end with our boat and it made it very nice that he was able to come in straight across to us," said Branam.
John Rayburn of Roane County Rescue Squad said it took rescuers 15 to 20 minutes to locate the children once boats were launched into the lake.
Emergency officials say they boys were conscious at the time when Lifestar arrived.