It was nearly 100 degrees as Richard McKenzie II waited - paralyzed, in pain and struggling to stay conscious - for a medical helicopter to take him out of the wilderness that had nearly taken his life.

Luckily, he wasn't waiting alone.The 19-year-old from Plain City had gone camping with his younger brother and three friends in the San Rafael Swell, in Emery County.

After a five-hour hike to the campsite, Richard McKenzie and the other young men - David McKenzie Jr., Chris Hanson, Peter Norseth and Steve Kippen, all 17 years old - set up camp near the banks of a river.

About 10:30 a.m. the next day, July 14, David McKenzie, Norseth and Kippen decided to swim in the river to get out of the heat. They called to Richard, then just feet from the edge of the water, to join them.

Seeing his friends neck-deep in water, Richard dove in, head first.

"We sort of gasped as he was diving in," David McKenzie said.

"Rich had been so careful the whole time," Kippen said.

"Dave and I had been doing the stupid things. We had been taking a few chances we didn't have to. But Rich was always careful, with our health and his own."

This time, though, Richard dove into the murky, muddy water, unable to see the sandbar just 6 inches beneath the surface. He struck the bottom first with his hands, then with his head.

At first, as they saw Richard face down in the ankle-deep water, they thought he was joking. It quickly sank in, though, that what they had seen was all too real.

"We knew it was serious because he wasn't coming up," Hanson said. "He wasn't moving."

Shocked, his friends rushed to help. But in the few seconds it took to reach Richard, the frightened teenagers - all trained lifeguards - abruptly switched roles, becoming lifesaving professionals.

Hanson, who is one test away from qualifying as an emergency medical technician, stabilized his head as the four of them lifted Richard out of the water.

The three others carried him, a kind of human stretcher, to the shore, where they log-rolled him over onto his back. He was still conscious.

"He told us, `I think I broke my neck. I can't feel my legs,' " David McKenzie said. "He could feel he was under water, but he couldn't move."

They called for help on a cellular phone. And for the next five hours, they waited for a medical helicopter to arrive.

They set up a tarp to shade Richard from the sun as temperatures climbed into the hundreds. They gave him all of their clean water, both for drinking and to keep him cool. They tried to filter some more from the river, but the water was so dirty the filter couldn't filter anymore.

The effects of dehydration and the heat were taking their toll.

"We started getting more and more fatigued, we were always thirsty, and my eyes went weird," David McKenzie said. "We got really dizzy whenever we tried to move or walk."

Still, they were focused on helping Richard. They told stories and sang songs ("The Three Little Pigs" and "Cannibal Kings" were favorites) to keep Richard conscious.

When they finally heard the rhythmic beating of helicopter blades, Hanson said a sense of relief settled in. Hanson had been monitoring Richard's vital signs every five minutes for more than five hours, and was concerned that his condition had deteriorated. Help came none too soon.

Richard McKenzie was taken by medical helicopter to LDS Hospital, where he remains in critical condition. He is determined to walk again, David McKenzie said, though doctors said progress would likely be slow.

But those who know Richard know that if anyone can make it, he can.

"While we were out there, he was the one who was keeping us sane," Norseth said.

And when the teens arrived at the hospital after their own trek out of the canyon, Richard met them with a smile.

"The first thing we saw was this big smile," Kippen said. "Then he thanked us and told us that he loved us."

Melanie McKenzie, Richard's mother, said she believes her son will recover, thanks to his four friends. They are heroes, she said.

"To the four that saved his life, I just want to say that without you - without your knowledge, your calmness, your faith and belief in God, I honestly don't believe my son would be here. I don't know how to thank you for my child's life."

All four teens sat embarrassed, heads down, as Melanie McKenzie spoke. But as they responded, the words came in a flood, each finishing the other's sentences.

"I don't feel like a hero at all," David McKenzie said.

"We just did what we had to do, what we had practiced so many times . . . " Kippen continued.

"He would have done it for us," David McKenzie said.

"There was nothing else we could have done," Norseth said, simultaneously.

His father, David Sr., content to stay in the background for much of the interview, came forward at the end with a very specific message, in effect, a tribute:

"I want people to know that these guys have been good guys forever. They've worked hard to be good kids, and now they're good young men," he said. "They've worked hard to be who they are, and the effort paid off when they saved my son."