CONEY ISLAND — A young girl's frightening fall from a third-floor window had a happy ending Monday thanks to a quick-thinking hero, who caught her, despite the shooting pain in his arm.
The 7-year-old girl somehow managed to climb out a third-floor window and onto an air conditioning unit high above the ground at Coney Island Houses, a public housing complex at 3030 Surf Ave., about 2:30 p.m. Monday, witnesses and officials said.
Luckily, Steve St. Bernard, who lives nearby, was there with open arms when she fell.
Both he and the girl — whose identity was not immediately known — were taken to Coney Island Hospital, FDNY officials said. The girl's was not injured, but she was taken to the hospital for evaulation, police said.
"I felt pain in my arm, but I didn't let her go," said St. Bernard, 52, who returned from the hospital wearing a sling for his torn bicep tendon. "I have a torn tendon, but it was worth it. I'm glad she's alive. Not a scratch on her."
St. Bernard had just gotten home from work — where he was celebrating his 10th year as an MTA bus driver — and was on his way to meet up with his 7-year-old daughter, Tahaaani, when he spotted the little girl.
"I saw her and she was dancing [on the AC unit], and I just prayed I would get there if she fell," said St. Bernard, who is a vice president of the complex's tenants association. "I was thinking, 'Oh God, don't let me drop her, let me catch her.'"
He yelled at a big crowd of kids — many of whom had just gotten out of a free summer lunch program at the complex and had gathered to watch — to stop shouting as the incident unfolded.
Witnesses, who also described the girl as dancing on the AC unit, said that St. Bernard had asked if anyone had pillows or mattresses to put under the child in the event of a fall and that he then positioned himself under her to catch her.
Onlookers said he was able to partially catch her, but that her leg hit the ground.
"It was crazy," said Jeremiah Fernandez, 12.
Children from the lunch program had just left when they spotted the girl. Several ran back to alert adults from the lunch program, said Deborah Reed, 52, the Coney Island Houses tenants association president.
"They were telling us 'Call the cops! There is a little girl standing on an air conditioner,'" recounted Reed, who ran upstairs to the girl's apartment and banged on the door.
"When the mother finally answered the door I asked her, did she have a little girl?" Reed said. "She answered, 'Yes I do.' And that's when I alerted her to the fact that the child was standing on the air conditioner."
Reed said that St. Bernard was a life saver.
"He was standing directly under the window, so when the little girl fell, she fell right into his arms," she said. "We thank God for him."
It was not immediately clear how the girl got outside on the AC unit.
Reed said New York City Housing Authority staff responded quickly to remove the air conditioner and replace it with the required safety bars.
NYCHA officials said the incident was under investigation.
"A New York City Housing Authority resident leader appeared to have caught the girl, blunting her fall," a NYCHA spokeswoman confirmed.