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The North Bend Eagle


Life saver
Christina Kavan poses with the folding chair she used to save her grandfather, Bob Soukup, and Steve Chromy after they fell through the ice.

Girl saves grandfather, friend from drowning

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 2/23/11

Christina Kavan, 5, loves to go on outings with her grandfather, Bob Soukup, whom she calls Pepa. On Valentine’s Day he picked her up from day care and they went ice fishing with Soukup’s friend, Steve Chromy.

Instead of fishing, the day’s events nearly became tragic. Except for the actions of a little girl, there may have been obituaries in this week’s Eagle rather than the story of a little hero.

It was a beautiful day, 45 degrees and sunny. The men planned to fish at a lake near North Bend. Christina, daughter of Bob and Cheryl Kavan of Morse Bluff, came along to watch. The men had drilled a number of holes in the 12-inch thick ice, lowered a camera, saw no fish, and were traveling to another part of the lake. The two men were walking beside each other with Christina about 20 feet behind them when the ice gave way and they fell into the lake.

“We must have been lolly gagging and not paying attention,” Soukup, 67, said. ‘We walked right into the middle of a soft spot, and next thing you know, whoosh, we were down.

“I came up and was hanging on to the camera and thought, ‘this is stupid,’ and let go of it. I got my head above water and saw Steve. I knew he couldn’t swim so I put him hanging on the ice. The ice I grabbed hold of broke off and I went under again. Finally, I grabbed hold of some ice and thought we were gonners.”

It took the men four to five minutes to get stabilized and make a plan. As soon as Christina saw her Pepa go under she started crying. The men tried to get out, but soon realized they needed help and sent Christina to get a chair.

She was crying and complaining the whole time, but she made it back to the chairs, about 100 yards away, and picked the only chair of three that would work, the bag chair with rounded feet.

“I stuck the chair out as far ahead as I could and dug the feet in,” Soukup said.
Christina got on her knees, grabbed the other side of the chair and pulled.

“I took my gloves off so I could hold on to the chair better,” Christina said. “It looked like I was fishing people.”

Soukup pulled himself out and then, using the same chair, pulled Chromy out.
In all, the men were in the water 15 to 20 minutes.

“We counted our blessings and headed for home,” Chromy said. “Christina did a good job listening to her grandpa.”

Once the men were out, Christina was fine.

“She has no concept how much danger we were in,” Soukup said. “I don’t know what we would have done if she hadn’t been there. She did what she had to do and did it very well.”

The men went home and changed clothes. When Soukup’s wife Anne got home she found Christina sitting on the couch drinking a pop, two things she is not allowed to do.

“It’s worse than you think,” Soukup told his wife.

Anne didn’t believe him until she went into her laundry room and found all his wet clothes.

Chromy said he did a lot of thinking the next day. At first it was difficult to talk about.

“But we are here to talk about it,” Chromy said. He and his wife Audrey took Christina out to dinner the next evening.

Chromy said his ice fishing days are over. Soukup said he may go out again sometime. The men, who have fished and hunted together often over the years, have lots of stories to tell, but both agreed it’ll be hard to top this one.

Christina has decided she never wants to go back.

“I was going to say, ‘Don’t go there,’” she said as the two men were talking about the days events. “I like to not go ice fishing.”

That evening Christina performed with her classmates in the B-4 Preschool program with proud, and very lucky, grandparents looking on.

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