FOX 11 News at Five and Nine
FOX 11 News at Five and Nine
When you're about to graduate at the top of your high school …
There are hundreds of animals to see at the NEW Zoo in Suamico,…
Members of a volunteer squad in Oconto County are making a …
You could call it a labor of love. A Kewaunee man spent decades…
Updated: Wednesday, 13 Feb 2013, 5:52 PM CST
Published : Wednesday, 13 Feb 2013, 9:55 AM CST
CALUMET COUNTY - Feb. 14, 2013 marks the fourth anniversary of an ice accident on Lake Winnebago that claimed the lives of a father and daughter, and severely injured another little girl.
In 2009, Lake Winnebago was buzzing with activity as sturgeon spearing season was in full swing.
Danial Kleinhans took his nine-year-old daughter Savannah and her seven-year-old friend, Tiffany Dombrowski, for a ride on the ice in his pickup truck. The truck hit a crack and plunged into the water with all three inside.
Connie Loewe, a first responder for the Stockbridge Fire Department, was called to the scene.
"As I was getting there, that was just when Tiffany was pulled out," recalled Loewe in a recent interview. "I responded out there with two flight nurses from ThedaStar (rescue helicopter) and we immediately got her out."
Despite being under water for 30 minutes, Tiffany survived the terrifying ordeal. Daniel and Savannah did not.
It's a day Loewe says she will never forget. She closely monitored Tiffany's progress as she recovered from her injuries in the hospital. She recalls that Tiffany's parents referred to her as "Princess Tiffany" on the CaringBrige site they set up for her online.
"So I bought her a beautiful dress and a crown and I went to see her," said Loewe. "I stayed in contact and we've been shopping and doing lunches and she's spent numerous weekends at my house. She's my little miracle."
Loewe and Tiffany enjoy more than just shopping and lunch these days. They both now share a passion for scuba diving. It may come as a surprise to many that a girl who once came so close to death underwater is now a certified diver.
Tiffany, now 11 years old, wore a huge grin on her face while practicing diving at the Brillion Community Center pool earlier this month.
"It's really fun," said Tiffany.
Tiffany's interest in diving piqued when Loewe began to train as a member of the Calumet County Dive Team. At the time of the 2009 accident, Calumet County did not have a dive team. Savannah Kleinhans' mother, Tina Katze, says it cost the lives of her loved ones.
"We believe that had there been rescue crews closer to the accident, Savannah and her father would still be alive," said Katze.
Alternative methods had to be used to pull Tiffany, Danial and Savannah from the truck - methods that took much longer. Tears come to Loewe's eyes as she recalls the agony she and other rescuers felt that day.
"Every minute seems like an hour when you know there's somebody under there and you can't go get them," said Loewe.
The accident sparked a massive effort to create a dive team in Calumet County. Loewe became one of the first members, trained by Green Bay Scuba. Katze raised money to help get the team off the ground. She started the non-profit organization Savannah's Pay It Forward Foundation in honor of her daughter.
"She's with me always - right there in my heart and the pain does get better with time," said Katze. "This foundation and what we do has certainly helped in that."
The Calumet County Dive Team became officially active in 2011. It relies solely on donations to stay afloat. So far, Savannah's Pay It Forward Foundation has provided the team with nearly $35,000 through community fundraising.
Currently, the Calumet County Dive Team has 14 divers, but only enough equipment for eight. Members say equipment for one diver can cost up to $7,500.
Click here for a direct link to the Savannah's Pay It Forward Foundation website, to learn ways you can help.
Savannah's Pay It Forward Foundation is making a difference, and so is the friendship between Loewe and Tiffany.
"Connie is like, the best friend I ever had," said Tiffany.
"It's such a miracle she survived and I feel like we're good for each other," said Loewe.