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Whew, that was close: Elderly couple freeze, saved from oncoming train

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By The Associated Press
Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

AMES, Iowa — An Iowa man is being hailed as a hero for pushing an elderly couple's stalled car from a railroad crossing with a freight train bearing down on them.

Chris Ihle, 38, said he was returning from lunch on Wednesday and had just parked his motorcycle at the Wells Fargo Bank in Ames, where he works, when he noticed that a Pontiac Bonneville was sitting frozen in the nearby rail crossing with a train approaching.

Ihle ran over and screamed at the couple inside, 84-year-old Marion Papich and his 78-year-old wife, Jean, to move, but they didn't.

“They just sat there and the train was coming,” the father of three told The Des Moines Register.

Ihle tried pushing the car forward, but it wouldn't budge. So he moved to the car's front and told Marion Papich to make sure it was in neutral. He then dug in his cowboy boots and heaved as the train bore down on them with its horn blaring and brakes screeching.

“You could hear it. I even think I could smell it,” Ihle said.

Ihle managed to push the car about 5 feet to safety, seconds before the train rumbled by, missing him by inches.

The car wasn't scratched, and the Papiches were unharmed.

Ihle tried to speak to them, but they were too shaken to talk.

A day later, the couple from nearby Slater still could hardly believe what they'd been through.

“It was really close, and I'm still scared,” Jean Papich told KCCI-TV.

Marion Papich said that in retrospect, he and his wife should have climbed out of the car. But his wife said that at the time, they simply froze.

“Closest call I've had,” he said.

After the rescue, Ihle walked back to his office, where the tellers who witnessed his heroics swarmed him. He had a cup of coffee and called his father before returning to the crossing, where police had arrived. The Union Pacific crew had stopped the train down the tracks, and an engineer ran back to make sure everyone was all right.

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