NORTH ARLINGTON, NJ (WPIX/Tribune/CNN) - A New Jersey man dove into the Passaic River to rescue a woman who crashed her car into the frigid river on Monday.
“No one was jumping in, so someone had to," Michael James said.
James, a 37-year-old Navy veteran, was driving north on Route 21 North at 9 a.m. Monday when he saw the 22-year-old woman sitting on her car as it was sinking into the river. She had climbed out of the back window onto her trunk.
"Just went, didn't think about it. She was panicking a little at first, tried to get her to calm down, she was good, she listened, she helped me help her,” he said.
The woman screamed she couldn’t swim, and James said when the car went underwater, so did the woman.
“I told her, ‘calm down, or else we’re both going down,” James said.
Police threw ropes out to the two and were able to pull them to safety – but it was cold.
“With the water that temperature, you can't even talk too much, takes your breath away from you, it was freezing in there,” James said.
James was taken the hospital for hypothermia after the water rescue. The high temperature on Monday was 43 degrees and the water temps were around 37 degrees.
Police say somehow the woman lost control of her car, hit the guardrail, went over it and plunged into the river.
It's still unclear if weather played a role, and police are still investigating.
"There was snow off the side of road, I can't say for certain, but it could have played a role in her going over the guardrail not through the guard rail," said Lt. John McAloon, of the Belleville Police Department.
When asked what the scariest part of the rescue was, James answered: "Not knowing if we were going to make it back."
The woman is now home recovering.