ALABAMA, NY (WKBW) - The massive five-hour rescue operation on Sunday - involving first responders from four counties - became a logistical nightmare for volunteer firefighters.
Their mission: save a hunter, trapped in the Alabama Swamps in Genesee County. Eventually, four rescuers who ventured onto the icy waters to save the man, became trapped themselves.
28-year-old Colin Phillips was the hunter they were trying to help. That morning, he suited up for a cold, wet day in swamp.
"I kept going out into the swamp and it wasn't very deep at all. Maybe three, four inches," he said.
He was wearing ultra warm thermal boots, so he kept on walking deeper into the swamp. He was tracking a deer, a buck, that he shot once, but it got away.
"And it finally got to a point where it started to get a little deeper than it should have gotten. And the water started coming over my boots a little bit," said Phillips.
Losing the deer, Phillips decided to turn around. By then, he lost his way and then realized there was no safe way to get out.
"But the breaking through the ice, picking my boots up filled with water, it became unbearable at that point. I was exhausted."
So he called for help and members of the Alabama Vol. Fire Co. arrived. They made their way out to Phillips.
"So we continued to follow his footsteps through which took us through waist-deep water and that's where one of the other firefighters who was with me became in trouble and we had to seek higher ground so we could start rehab on him," said Chief Gary Patnode of the Alabama Vol. Fire Co.
Now, instead of one, there were five men trapped.
"You know, at that point there was no option of walking back. It was too cold, too much water, too much ice and we had all become exhausted at that point," Phillips said.
Eventually, after several attempts for a land rescue, Air One was called. It pulled Phillips and two firefighters to safety. The remaining two men made it out on foot, with the help of fellow first responders who were finally able to reach them.
At one point, you can see the men struggle... falling through the thin ice... after spending an exhausting four hours in the bitter cold.
"Standing on that lodge for that long, I was a little nervous for a while - definitely had some thoughts running through my head that I didn't want to," said Phillips.
"I owe these guys my life."