Merced girl, 12, helps in dramatic rescue of drowning boy

August 11, 2011 

Nicole Kissel won't be grounded for not listening to her parents.

"When you're saving someone's life, we don't have to ground you," said her mother, Mallisa Rainey. Or when you've been featured on ABC World News and Good Morning America.

Kissel's family wasn't surprised when they heard the blonde-haired girl, who learned to swim before she could walk, helped save Charles "Dale" Ostrander's life last Friday in the choppy waters off the Long Beach peninsula in Washington state.

"It doesn't make me feel like a hero because if those other people weren't there, he wouldn't have made it for sure," Nicole said. As for her pulling Dale to safety? Not "a big deal."

Instead, it was just second nature for a girl who was taught to help someone in need and put others who were in trouble before herself.

National and international media coverage focused on the 12-year-old Merced girl this week after she helped save Dale's life.

She was visiting her father in Washington when she heard the calls for help coming from Dale, 12, in the water. She headed back toward him on her boogie board, despite calls from her dad to come back.

"And of course I didn't," she said. "Really, nothing goes through your mind when someone needs help or they're about to drown. They're in trouble." She got to Dale with her boogie board. He kept telling her thank you. Nicole introduced herself to Dale when she reached him.

"I put him on the board and then I got on top and I held the board," she recalled.

The water was choppy that day. "There were several waves — the biggest wave I have ever seen was the one that knocked us off the board," she said.

"I felt his shorts, I pushed him up. I went up and I said, ‘We have to swim now' because we weren't with the board and I was pretty sure I was going to die," she recalled. "We're too young to die."

She and Dale became separated in the water. A rescue team arrived on the scene to save Dale who was still in the surf.

There were a lot of people standing on the beach, watching what was happening in the water.

"All those people stood there in a big area just staring at us, wondering could they actually see us or know what was going on or are they calling someone for help," Nicole said.

The church group Dale was with was on the beach, too.

She estimated the farthest her and Ostrander got from the shore was a couple hundred yards. "You're so worried about the waves," Kissel said. "Yeah, I was really scared and a wave hit us and I cussed out a word and he said, ‘Don't say it. God doesn't like it.'"

Nicole and her family didn't know if the boy she tried to rescue was alive until earlier this week. Nicole said it was heartwarming to know that he had lived "because a lot of people had said he had died."

The family didn't find out until Tuesday that he had survived, according to her grandmother, Darlene Terry, who lives in Washington state.

"She did not sleep the entire time. She couldn't sleep and was so heartbroken and emotionally wrenched about not having saved him. We found it at a post on the Internet. When I showed it to her, she broke down in tears she was so happy," Terry said by phone Thursday afternoon.

Nicole went to visit him at OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Ore., and he was actually able to say "thank you" to her.

Dale's parents weren't giving any interviews to the media at this time, according to Tamara Hargens-Bradley, spokesperson for the hospital.

Nicole, who will start sixth grade at Cruickshank Middle School Monday, grew up with all her family helping each other. She's been swimming since she was 6 months old, said her mother, Mallisa, who works at UC Merced. And she's been kayaking since she was 5.

They're all proud of her and grateful for the way everything turned out.

"The fact she would do something like that isn't a shock to me at all," explained Mallisa. "She hasn't had any fear. Of course you go, ‘Oh my gosh — something could have happened to her.'"

Nicole cares about other people and what's happening to them, said Darlene. "I'm grateful that it turned out the way it did," she added. "We are extremely proud of her."

Nicole and Dale will probably be friends forever, Mallisa said. Mallisa said she's really thankful he was recovering. "It's important for people to have stories about miracles and stories about faith and stories about doing the right thing," Mallisa said. "We live in such a scary world where it's just sadness on the news every day so I think people cling to good stories like this."

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsun-star.com.

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