Joe Oertel, 51, was on a pontoon boat with his family on Sunday in the Assawoman Bay near Ocean City when his daughter called out to him.
The man had been a couple of vehicles back, saw what happened and jumped into the bay to rescue the child, fire department officials said.
Oertel said Tuesday that at the time, he and his family didn’t know what had happened on the bridge — not realizing that moments earlier, the child had been in a truck on the highway above and was now being rescued. The Oertels had been in their boat on the south side of the bridge and the crash had happened on the north side.
“We just went into rescue mode,” Oertel said. “We asked him if he was hurt and he said ‘no.’ He said, ‘The baby needs medical attention.’ ”
Oertel said his wife reached over the boat and took the crying child into her arms, then wrapped her in a blanket. The man climbed into the boat. Oertel said he then headed to a nearby ramp, where rescuers were waiting and the child was flown to a Baltimore hospital.
On Wednesday, Ocean City officials said that the child had been released from the hospital and is at home with her family. She’s expected to make a full recovery.
The good Samaritan who jumped in to save her wants to remain anonymous, city officials said. Ashley Miller, a spokeswoman for the Ocean City police, said the good Samaritan “truly is a humble hero.”
On Facebook, Oertel wrote: “Seconds counted in this rescue! Unbelievable that the Hero who jumped probably didn’t know that the bay is only 4 feet to 5 feet deep in that area.”
“For him to do that is very brave and heroic,” Oertel said Tuesday. He said he didn’t know the man’s name.
Oertel, who has lived in Ocean City for more than three decades and runs a construction and contracting firm, said he and his family tried to have a “normal” day Monday but couldn’t. He and his wife came home from work early to spend time with their family.
“The energy and the adrenaline were still moving,” Oertel said. “We thought about, ‘What if we hadn’t been there?’ ”
He added: “We didn’t know what we were getting into. Thankfully, it wasn’t more serious. If that man hadn’t jumped in and we hadn’t gotten there, it could have been a whole different scenario.”
The crash happened about 2:45 p.m. and involved five vehicles. Police and fire officials said one vehicle went partially over a guardrail. Seven other people, not including the child, were treated at a hospital and released.
Investigators said they believe several crashes might have happened at the same time, but the incident is under investigation. Ocean City officials said their initial findings show that alcohol was not a factor.
Oertel said he estimated that the man and the child were in the water for about five minutes. Oertel said they later saw the car seat floating nearby.
“It was all very surreal and scary,” Oertel said. “You often wonder what would you do in a situation like that, and we’ve always taught our kids to keep your head on a swivel, especially in the water, and be cognizant of your surroundings. Our daughter did just that.”
Oertel said some of his friends, family members and colleagues have said his family are heroes, which he disputes.
He said, “We’re just people who happened to be there at the right place and the right time.”