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"Everything swirled and got dark:" Diver shares story of attempted rescue after car plunged into KK River

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee Rescue Divers are saying a New Year's Eve crash that killed a child and her pregnant mother was the most difficult mission they've ever been on.

Now, the diver who was trapped at the bottom of the KK River is telling the harrowing story of the rescue only to CBS 58.

John Cooley is being hailed as a hero for how he responded to the life-threatening situation.

Cooley dove 30-feet on New Year's Eve and located the vehicle upside down, half-buried in mud.

"Everything swirled and got dark," said John Cooley with the MFD Dive Rescue Team.

He pulled a woman by the hair through the window but as he started to swim, he was trapped.

"It was like something had me by the neck and I would swim as hard as I could. It felt like something was choking me," Cooley said. "All the time, I'm praying God, don't let me die this way."

Cooley says he fought his panic, calmed himself, and let his training take over as he was conscious of his dwindling air s upply.

Eight minutes later, he was back in the boat with the woman.

"It felt like two hours," said Cooley.

"He pretty much never let go of that victim. The pride as his officer and what he did was heroic," said Lt. Kevin Monaghan, Dive Rescue Team Assistant Director.

The woman Shannan Nehmer was pregnant.

Her 2-year-old daughter, Annamelia Hernandez, was also in the car as was her believed-boyfriend Charles Barefield.

Nehmer and Barefield were suspects in two armed robberies but the rescue team knew none of that.

John was singularly focused on the dive and then grateful for his narrow escape from the KK River's depths.

"You realize how great life is, what a gift it is. I'm just so happy to be alive. So glad I got to tell my parents, all my kids and grandkids, that I love them," said Cooley.

Cooley was offered some time off to take it easy but he said no.

Cooley also said that this has made him appreciate just how much he loves his job. 

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