A.J. Hamilton, an X43 shipbuilder and volunteer firefighter, helped save a teen’s life in late December. Photo by Lexi Whitehead

Shipbuilder Saves Teen from Icy Pond

Published January 25, 2023

A.J. Hamilton (X43) – a Newport News shipbuilder and volunteer firefighter in Gloucester County – was just getting home Dec. 29 when his fire department pager went off. The call was for a teenage girl who was walking on a frozen pond. The ice had suddenly given way, plunging her into frigid, 12-foot-deep water.

Hamilton rushed to the scene, which was about 2.5 miles away from his home. “I was the first one on scene,” he said. “There were bloodcurdling screams. Screams that you couldn’t imagine.”

When Hamilton arrived, the girl’s upper body was above the water, but by the time he ran down to the pond, just her head was above water. He knew the situation was life or death, so he notified dispatch and went in. He was cautious at first, but when he saw his fire captain coming to the pond, Hamilton said he “pushed” toward the teen.

“As soon as I put my hands on her, the ice broke out from underneath me, and in the water I went,” he said. He was able to hold himself and the teen up and shove her onto the ice once his captain reached them. That’s when the ice gave way again, and all three ended up in the water. Hamilton and his captain were able to grab her and swim – while breaking 1.5-inch thick ice with their elbows – until they reached an area where the water was shallow enough to stand.

The teen then received medical attention and was transported to a hospital along with another teen who had also fallen into the water but was able to escape and make the call for help.

Hamilton, a shipbuilder for nearly five years, was glad to save a life using his training but doesn’t consider himself a hero. “Hero is a big word. This is what we do. We train to fight fires and to do rescues,” he said.

A piece of potentially lifesaving advice from Hamilton is to never walk on frozen bodies of water in this area. “In Virginia, the ice is not going to get thick enough for people to walk across – no matter if it’s a stream, a pond or a pool,” he said. “If something does happen to a person or even an animal, stop and call 911.”