Mother drowns while holding toddler’s head above water long enough for rescue

LAKE POWELL, UT (WCMH) — A woman’s final act was to sacrifice her own life in order save the life of her 2-year-old son.

Chelsey Russell, 33, drowned Tuesday in Lake Powell, according to the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies say the 2-year-old boy fell from a moving houseboat into the lake. The child was not wearing a life jacket.

Russell, who was also not wearing a life jacket, immediately jumped in after her son. She grabbed the boy and held his head above water as the houseboat continue to move away.

Deputies say another family member untied a smaller boat to get to the mother and child before they both went completely under the water. The family member arrived in time to rescue the child from off his mother’s chest, but Russell was already unconscious.

Family members and paramedics began performing CPR, but it was too late.

Chelsey Russell, 33 (Courtesy: Welborn, Sullivan, Meck & Tooley)
Chelsey Russell, 33 (Courtesy: Welborn, Sullivan, Meck & Tooley)

Russell worked for Denver, Colorado based law firm, Welborn, Sullivan, Meck & Tooley. The firm released a photo of Russell and a the following statement:

“Chelsey was an amazing mother, an exceptional legal talent, an extraordinary athlete, a loyal and generous friend, and left us all better for knowing her. She is sorely missed.”

The child was flown to Flagstaff Medical Center in stable condition as a precaution,KSL-TV reports.

This incident was investigated by the National Park Service, San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, and Utah State Parks.

“A common denominator in more than 120 fatalities at Lake Powell in the last decades is that victims were not wearing life jackets,” Meri Sias, Acting Chief Ranger at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, told KTVX-TV. “While life jackets are required for children 12 years of age and under, all boaters on Lake Powell are encouraged to wear life jackets.” provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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