A car somehow veered off Route 21 and plunged into the water of the nearby Passaic River Monday morning in Belleville, New Jersey, prompting a good Samaritan to jump in to save the driver, authorities say.
According to Belleville police, a woman driving the vehicle hit the guardrail and flew into the water.
The woman apparently managed to get herself out of the car and was floating when a good Samaritan jumped into the river to help her.
"I just saw a car floating by with a lady sitting on the trunk, she’s screaming that she couldn’t swim," Michael James, the good Samaritan, said. "She wasn’t lying, when the car went under, so did she."
James was a passenger on one of the cars stuck in traffic on Route 21 following the moment a car plummetted into the nearby river. As others watched the scene unfold, he knew he had to do something.
"Nobody else was jumping in, so somebody had to, I guess," James said, adding he didn't think twice about jumping into the frigid water.
As the vehicle was going underwater, the driver, 22-year-old Mariam Egberongbe, managed to get out of her vehicle as James made a decision that would ultimately save her life.
"It was real cold," James, a Navy veteran, recalled, saying that Egberongbe was "panicking a little at first" but managed to calm down and listened to James as he helped her.
"She listened," James said. "She helped me help her."
Though the car floated away almost 100 yards from the point of the accident, the pair didn't spend too much time in the cold water since Belleville police responded and assisted in the rescue.
When police arrived at the scene they threw two life vests into the water to get the two out.
Belleville Police Department Lt. John McAloon said that if it weren't for James' quick thinking and heroic deed, the scenario would have ended differently.
"There’s a very strong current," McAlloon said. "I think without the Good Samaritan it would’ve been a recovery and not a rescue."
Both the driver and the good Samaritan were transported to Clara Maass Medical Center and treated for hypothermia.
While James, became a hero Monday morning, he has a life goal set to be a bonafide first responder.
"Trying to get into the fire department, hopefully Clifton Fire Department soon," he said.
Divers worked tirelessly to get the car out of the Passaic River.
How the car ended up in the water is unclear. Police say it doesn't appear to be weather related, but the incident is still being investigated as an accident.
Images from the scene showed a portion of a guardrail separating the highway from the riverbank and river down. The outline of what appears to be a car submerged could also be seen.