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UNG junior helped rescue man from drowning in Rhine River

Kele Howerton
Kele Howerton, a 19-year-old University of North Georgia (UNG) student, helped rescue an unidentified man from drowning in the Rhine River near Strasbourg, France, while on her study abroad program in July.

Kele Howerton would not describe herself as a hero, but others would.

The 19-year-old University of North Georgia (UNG) student helped rescue an unidentified man from drowning in the Rhine River near Strasbourg, France, while on her study abroad program in July.

Howerton, a junior majoring in information systems, will be recognized for her heroic efforts by the UNG Public Safety department.

However, Howerton shies away from praise about her actions this summer.

"I didn't think of it as such a heroic move," the Augusta, Georgia, native said. "I thought of it as something you should do, something anybody should do."

Howerton said she just reacted to the situation when she and Georgia College and State University student Daniel Benton were near the Rhine River, part of the border between France and Germany.

"We saw a man get undressed and jump into the river. He just started swimming," Howerton said. "He started bobbing up and down and then he went under."

The pair watched as a teenage boy jumped into the river and swam to the man. The boy reached him but struggled to keep the now-unconscious man afloat.

"That's when I took off my shoes and jumped into the water, socks and all," Kele said. "I got in to help. The man was blue from the collarbone up."

Howerton and the teen ferried the man close to shore and hoisted him into the waiting arms of Benton and several teenage boys, who lifted him out of the water. One of the boys started CPR, and Benton pulled Howerton from the river.

The French police arrived, started treating the man and whisked him away to a hospital. This scared Howerton.

"I was nervous because I never saw him wake up, and I didn't know if he'd be OK," she said.

It was not the first time Howerton was scared that night. She said she experienced a flash of fear while in the water.

"There was a little moment when I thought I was going to drown because (the Rhine River) didn't have any bank. It was just a drop into deep water," Howerton said. "And I got really scared because you are in a moment and you think you can't do anything until you actually do them."

Howerton credits Benton with keeping her calm as the situation unfolded on shore. The language barrier made it difficult for her to communicate with the French authorities.

"Had Daniel not been there, I would have shut down," Howerton said. "He was a great emotional support."

Barbara Howerton learned of her granddaughter's actions via text message. While she was shocked at first, she was not surprised by Kele's actions.

"She's a quick thinker in a crisis," she said. "She can keep a cool head in a crisis. We've always known that about her."

Her quick actions saved a life. Howerton said the French police later reported if it wasn't for her, the man would have died.

This action, along with way she has handled the attention regarding the rescue, has made her grandparents proud.

"She was a little bit overwhelmed by the attention," Barbara Howerton said. "She appreciated it but she's ready to move on. We are very proud of her."

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