A kayaker's good timing and quick thinking saved five lives after a family's SUV crashed into a Northern California river last week.

Mark Devittorio was kayaking the American River 75 miles northeast of Sacramento when he heard the crash.

"I heard the sound of a crash and the second sound of a crash when they landed into the river" Devittorio told ABC News. "There were things that, had I done differently, people may have died."

Police say the family was traveling along Highway 50 when the family's vehicle suddenly swerved off the road and tumbled down the steep river embankment; colliding with a tree and a boulder in the process. The cause of the accident is not yet known, though it was raining at the time.

Had Devittorio been only slightly farther upstream he too could have been hit by tumbling SUV. Instead he was able to get into the vehicle and get a four-year-old girl and two teenager girls on to the shore.

The husband and wife in the driver and passenger seats were in worse shape. The father, 50-year-old Christian Lemler, was pinned upside with his wife who was using her legs to hold his head above the waterline.

"The wife wouldn't leave his side. They told each other that they loved one another," Devittorio said "that, I think, was part of what saved this man's life."

Within minutes, rescue workers stabilized the vehicle, eventually cutting the roof off to free Lemler.

While Lemler has suffered major injuries and is still hospitalized, the other occupants of the car made it out with minor bumps and bruises.

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