PYEONGTAEK –– The scenario, captured in mobile phone footage, is a mother’s nightmare.
On the fourth story of a burning building in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, a woman dangles her baby out the window as smoke billows from two floors below.
Onlookers scream and wave their hands as the 30-year-old mother holds out the terrified infant –– the child’s legs kicking furiously –– before dropping her to the crowd.
Another child follows, then another, before the woman herself leaps from the window –– the only escape route.
Remarkably, all survived without injury Saturday, caught safely on blankets in a rescue effort orchestrated by passing US service personnel stationed at nearby Osan Air Base.
US Air Force Master Sergeant Daniel Raimondo told CNN he was walking to dinner Saturday when he saw clouds of smoke and set off in that direction.
On assessing the scene, he and a colleague discussed how to help and resolved to get some blankets from a nearby store.
They corralled others to help hold the blankets, then tried to persuade the mother to drop her children to safety.
First Sgt. Melanie Scott said the woman was understandably reluctant to let go of her children, ages 1, 3 and 4.
“You could tell she was scared. She didn’t want to.”
Raimondo said that the “last baby was the most difficult in my eyes, she just wouldn’t let her go for some reason.”
He said he repeatedly begged the mother: “Please just throw the baby down!”
“I remember her screaming [at] the baby, ‘I love you, I love you . . .’. Next thing you know she dropped the baby.”
By this time, the mother had to jump.
“The smoke and the fire was just horrendous,” Raimondo said.
“You could barely even see her at that point.”
The woman fell more heavily than the children and hit the ground beneath the blanket, but someone had had the foresight to put cushions underneath it, he said.
“We carried her into a safe location into a salon,” he said. “I just kept yelling and talking to her, ‘You’re alive! You’re alive!’”
On Monday, the rescued family, who hail from Nigeria, met the people who saved their lives and thanked them.
“I don’t know how I would explain my thanks,” said the children’s father, Prince Enyioko.
“I was so surprised, I see the people gathering here to rescue my family, especially the military.”
Raimondo said he sat with the first child to be rescued in the aftermath Saturday and held her while her mother, suffering from smoke inhalation, sat in shock.
“I let her know that she was very brave and she flew like Supergirl. She just smiled,” he said.
“It was an emotional experience. The good news is they made it through alive.”