Baby Bridget was sinking fast and there was only one thing for David Anderson to do.
“I never even thought about it,” the hero dad said Monday, recounting the terrifying moment his precious 2-year-old plunged into the murky waters off the South Street Seaport.
“I just got in. I knew I had to get down there. It was just instinct. I knew what I had to do.”
That fatherly instinct, caught in exclusive pictures and video on NYDailyNews.com and in the Daily News, has won him accolades.
And with the praise there has also been a degree of criticism. How did he let Bridget fall from the ship at the seaport? Anderson, 54, insists he was being vigilant.
“I feel bad and really guilty and horrible…but I know I wasn’t ignoring her. I was right there….It took five seconds for her to walk over and disappear.”
He said Bridget Sheridan slipped from the gangplank as he looked down to adjust his camera: “There is a fence. There are guardrails. It shouldn’t have happened.”
Bridget’s mom, Kathleen Sheridan, “was pretty freaked out” when Anderson called her to say what happened. She told reporters Monday night she was relieved everything turned out okay – but bristled at all the cameras still camped outside her door.
“Thank God, Bridget’s perfectly fine,” Anderson said of his pretty, blond baby. “You would have thought she was in a bathtub. She came out with not a scratch, not a mark, nothing.”
The drama unfolded Saturday at the Peking, a historic ship docked at the seaport’s museum.
Anderson was there with Bridget and his son, 6-year-old Kiernan.
“I stopped to take a picture of her,” he said. “It wasn’t good. I deleted it and looked up, and she wasn’t standing right in front of me like she was supposed to be.”
When he looked down to the water, he was horrified.
“She was looking at me. I saw her,” he said. “Her face was an inch or two under water.
Luckily, a still-unidentified Frenchman had beat him there and was already holding his baby.
“I was in the water within 20 seconds,” Anderson said. “When I got there, he was in there. He jumped in first. He grabbed her. He was holding her. And then I came and I just took her.”
Other good Samaritans also swarmed, including Mike Fisher, a 27-year-old Bayside, Queens, technology teacher and his brother Richard, 23, who helped hoist up the baby and then her dad. The Fishers’ mom, Patricia, of upstate Ballston Spa, comforted Bridget until her dad could take her back.
Bridget cried all the way to Bellevue Hospital, Anderson said, but settled down once she was treated and her mother arrived.
“She had a suntan and that was about the worst of it,” Anderson said. “Yesterday, she wouldn’t take a nap. Nothing but energy all day long. She is feisty. She has a little mind of her own. She is a miracle baby.”
“Everybody called him ‘Hollywood’ – he was so good-looking, gregarious, a good soul,” said Heather Schultz, who worked with him on the ski patrol.
Back at his home in Vista, Calif., neighbors were shocked to hear what happened in New York.
“He talks about his children all the time. When he gets home after a visit, he mopes for days and says he misses them,” said Almas Khamisa, a teacher.
“He just loves his children,” a sentiment repeated by several of his neighbors.
And especially his mother.
“I’m proud of my son, very much so,” said Lillian Moller, 78.
“He says everything is fine, but I can hear in his voice that he’s pretty shaken,” she said.