TAIPEI - Shortly before take-off on the ill-fated TransAsia Airways flight from Taipei, Mr Lin Ming-wei asked the cabin crew if he and his young family could change seats.
He felt uneasy about a noise coming from the wing and asked to switch from seats on the left side of the plane to an empty row on the rear right-hand side, reported local media.
Mr Lin, 38, his wife Chiang Yu-yin, 35, and two-year-old son Ri-yao were looking forward to a vacation on Kinmen, a Taiwanese island off the coast of the Chinese province of Fujian.
Instead, he soon found himself struggling out of the wrecked plane, pulling his wife out, then searching frantically for his son in the river.
He found the toddler quickly, floating in the water, but saw that his lips were blue and there was no heartbeat. So he gave his son cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
"He is my only child. I absolutely have to save his life - I can't lose him," local media quoted him as having told his younger brother Chris.
Both his son and wife are in hospital undergoing treatment, while Mr Lin was slightly injured.
He believed his decision to switch seats saved his family.
According to Taiwan's Central News Agency, initial reports indicated that the left side of the turboprop plane was seriously damaged in the crash.
The Lin family of three were among 15 passengers who survived the crash.
Another survivor was Mr Huang Chin-shun, 72, who told CNN affiliate ETTV that he helped save four lives by unclipping safety belts.
"Shortly after taking off, I felt something was not right," he told ETTV. "I thought 'something's wrong with the engine', because I always take this flight."
Reuters quoted Taiwan's United Daily as reporting that a flight attendant, identified only by her surname, Huang, told her family she had crawled out of the rear of the plane and found herself in the water. "I thought I was going to die," she said.
Two others on the ground - cabby Chou Hsi-tung, 52, and his female passenger Wang Tuan-ru - also escaped death when the plane's wing hit their taxi on a highway as it went down.
Mr Chou told Liberty Times he was driving on the highway when he heard a strange noise and saw what appeared to be a dark cloud in the sky above his taxi.
Then he felt his vehicle being pulled strongly by an object from the inner lane of the highway to the outer lane, hitting the railings on the side of the viaduct. It was after his vehicle had come to a stop that he realised it had been hit by a plane.
However, reported Taipei Times, his family did not believe him at first when he phoned them to say: "I'm okay. My car got into a crash; it was hit by an aeroplane."
Mr Chou and his passenger sustained light injuries from fragments of the shattered windscreen, and he had a slight concussion, according to local media.
He was hospitalised on Wednesday for observation.