Survivor of Chicago River drownings felt 'helpless'

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The Minnesota college student who survived after he and two companions went into the Chicago River said he never felt so helpless.

The Associated Press reported Quoc-Viet Phan Hoang, 23, of Vadnais Heights, was expected to be released from Presence St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago on Wednesday. He issued a statement through the hospital that said in part: "I lost two good friends. It's not easy seeing your friends drift away and having one die in your arms. I have never felt so helpless in my life. Thank you for everyone's thoughts and prayers."

Twenty-six-year-old Ken Hoang, of St. Paul, was pronounced dead after he was pulled from the river Monday. The Chicago Tribune reported that the Cook County medical examiner's office ruled Hoang drowned and that alcohol contributed to his death.

Chicago police divers are expected to resume their search for Lauren Li, a 21-year-old University of Minnesota senior. KSTP said she is missing and presumed dead. Her father Ben Li told the Tribune that he had been worried that his daughter’s aging car might be unsafe in snow and ice, so he lent his newer, four-wheel-drive pickup to her and her friends. “I didn’t want her to go at first, but I just gave in.” Li said over the telephone. “Because I love her so much and I wanted her to be happy.”

WLS in Chicago reported that Ken Hoang was the cousin of Quoc-Viet Phan Hoang and Li was the survivor's girlfriend. The three paid a visit to Chicago while en route to New Jersey. Ken Hoang was taking photos of the icy river when he dropped his cell phone into the water and fell in trying to retrieve it. Li and Quoc-Viet Phan Hoang went into the river in an effort to rescue him.

Friends told the Chicago TV station it was a testament to how close they were. "I would have jumped in and tried the best that I can, but I mean, the lengths you would go for your friends," a friend, Phu Cao, told the station.

The Minnesota Daily said that Ken Hoang had attended the University until 2010. Li was a student in the College of Biological Sciences and a member of the University Honors Program Friends described her as a charismatic woman with a distinct laugh. “The minute you met her, you felt like you were really good friends with her,” said nutrition junior Hailey Hassel, Li's apartment-mate in the 2012-13 school year.

Boynton Health Service and University Counseling and Consulting Services are providing mental health resources to friends.

The Ken Hoang Memorial Fund created at YouCaring.com had raised more than $10,000 for Hoang's family as of noon Wednesday. A post on behalf of the family thanked supporters. "The support and kind words have been overwhelming," the post said.

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