Eldon Cooper was involved a harrowing tractor-related accident in February, and by all accounts, should have died — perhaps several times throughout the ordeal.
But he didn’t, and Cooper believes it was only the grace of God that saved his life at every turn.
In February, Cooper, a Clarkridge, Arkansas, resident and 19-year military veteran, left his home one evening on his John Deere tractor to see if the dam on his pond was holding from the recent rain on his 25-acre property.
Cooper was set to meet his wife Debra at Bible study around 6 p.m., but he wouldn’t make it there.
“I hopped in the tractor, not grabbing my cellphone, a handgun, anything,” Cooper said, according to an AG Daily report Thursday. “I mean, really, I was only going to be gone for a few minutes.”
Cooper made his way to the pond, bringing dirt with him to reinforce the dam.
When he arrived at the pond, he was in for an unpleasant surprise: The torrential rains the area had received caused the dam’s spillway to wash out a four-foot straight drop, according to AG Daily.
Cooper described the following details in perfect clarity.
“I didn’t want to damage the tractor, so I started backing up to head home, something I have done 150 times, probably,” Cooper said. “Well, for some reason my rear tire got too close to the edge, and the edge on the pond side gave way, dropping the rear of the tractor about 18 inches or so towards the pond. It stopped before going over the edge, as I dropped the bucket to the ground.”
Cooper’s tractor had only one door, and he realized that he would be on the wrong side of it if he were to end up rolled in the pond with the tractor.
“I didn’t have much time. I thought two things,” Cooper said. “Should I open the door and jump out and try to swim around the tractor and get away from it before it would roll, if it was going to roll? I’m a great swimmer. That wouldn’t have been any problem to swim it, but could I get out of the way before it rolled? And the other thing, should I just wait here for help.”
According to Cooper, the tractor indeed begin to go into the drink, but he was able to get the right side tilt window open before the cab began filling with water — which happened quite fast, according to Cooper.
Cooper credited his military training for being able to skillfully slip out of his seat belt and above the waterline.
At this point, things were very dire: Cooper had just an air pocket the size of a shoebox keeping him alive.
“You can imagine what I was thinking. I am going to sit here and asphyxiate on my own air,” Cooper said. “They are going to find me in here and this is going to be my tomb.”
It only got worse from there, but it was this point that Cooper began praying to God.
“I needed that peace that passes all understanding, so I asked for it,” Cooper said. “You know what; that peace came over me almost immediately. I stopped panicking, and I stopped trying to breathe so hard because I couldn’t get a full breath. But I stopped panicking, and my mind cleared and I could think.”
Calmed, Cooper began to assess his situation and see what it was he could do to help himself out of the situation. He was able to take off his belt and attempted to break the window with it. Unfortunately, his efforts were in vain, and he stopped when he realized he was expending precious energy and valuable oxygen fighting with a window that wouldn’t yield.
So he went back to the drawing board again — and continued his prayers.
“I continued to pray. I prayed for my wife Debra, my kids, my family, that God would be with them and help them through whatever the outcome would be,” Cooper said. “I prayed for His will to be done. I prayed that somehow, some way, something good would come out of this situation and God would be glorified.”
Throughout his praying, an odd thing happened: the tractor’s flashers turned on of their own accord. Cooper said that he hadn’t bumped the flashers on, because they worked on a rotary switch.
According to AG Daily, Cooper knew that God had a hand in the flashers coming on, and, comforted, he lost consciousness shortly afterward.
His wife, Debra, realized that something was wrong when her husband didn’t show up for the planned Bible study.
When she home around 7:15 p.m., she found a flashlight and first aid kit and immediately went to the pond. Despite the darkness of the February night, the tractor’s flashing lights led her to the scene of her husband’s accident, from where she called 911 — but in her panic, gave first responders the wrong address.
According to AG Daily, this accidental misdirection would have sent first responders 20 minutes in the wrong direction.
The dispatcher, however, was diligent in ensuring maximum response, and was able to cross-reference the address with the couple’s driver’s licenses and correct the directions.
Cooper’s wife began calling everyone she knew to start a prayer chain while she waited on emergency responders.
“They saw my protective structure on the back to keep rocks from hitting the glass when mowing, and they thought that was the ROPS [roll-over protective structure]. They really didn’t know what to do,” Cooper said, recalling what he had been told after the situation unfolded. “In their eyes, I was either in my seat belt, or I was pinned under the tractor. Either way, I would be dead.”
The ambulance team left the scene and the mission turned from a rescue into a recovery and would reconvene the following morning.
Cooper’s family and friends were set to leave the scene that night, but his brother called out to him one last time, saying, “Eldon, are you there; are you alive?”
Cooper said that he was somehow able to respond — he doesn’t even remember doing it — with “deep [guttural] sounds.”
“I don’t remember any of this,” Cooper said, and noted that he was sure that when he’d gone unconscious, he should have slipped beneath the surface of the water and likely would have drowned.
“When I went unconscious I should have went limp and dropped down back into the water,” Cooper said. “God literally had to hold me back up into that air pocket.”
After Cooper’s family heard him from beneath the water’s surface, first responders returned to the scene and one of them jumped atop the tractor’s cab, breaking out the glass. The first responder and a diver jumped into the pond and were able to remove Cooper from the cab.
Cooper was taken to the hospital comatose and just barely alive, as he’d been submerged in 49-degree water for over three hours. AG Daily reported that Cooper was admitted to the hospital with a body temperature of just 83 degrees.
He awoke from his coma just a few hours later, which he said “startled” nurses.
“I wasn’t supposed to wake up. I was in coma,” Cooper explained.
Cooper recovered at a rapid rate and was released from the hospital just two days after his accident — but he credits God for every last bit of his story.
“Had God not intervened, I wouldn’t be here,” Cooper said. “I don’t believe in luck. God had done his will, he had saved my life.
“People have said I was really lucky; that I should buy lottery tickets,” he said. “Let me tell you, this was not luck.
“It was all God, it wasn’t anything I did,” Cooper said. “I couldn’t have saved myself, and they almost left me. They almost left me and was going to come back the next day.”