Three children are being hailed as heroes after spotting a man in distress in the Detroit River.

The rescue was witnessed by a large crowd of onlookers around 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon on Riverside Drive West.

"There were three young people, 2 girls and a fellow, and they immediately summoned help and it was probably them who saved his life because help came right away," says witness Larry Cookson.

He didn't know the children, but says he was concerned for them.

"They looked pretty upset about it, that they saw it. They couldn't have been more than 13 years old," he says.

Cookson says it appeared the man jumped into the river, with a large crowd of witnesses not far away.

He initially refused help when police arrived.

"He kept on trying to take that life preserver off and he did twice and so that's when one firefighter went into the water to get him out," says Cookson.

Many are describing the children as champions.

"Obviously there must have been some good upbringing with those kids, that they knew enough to summon help for somebody else in need," adds Cookson.