An eleventh-hour rescue

Topics: Quebec, Water Safety
September 20, 2013

Jonathan and his family wanted to share this gut-wrenching story to raise awareness about the importance of wearing a lifejacket. A must-read.

“On August 3, 2013, our friends and family were enjoying the sunshine at the Lac-Simon beach in Outaouais. We used my boat to take the children tubing.

It was almost 6 P.M. before we’d had our fill. One of my close friends then wanted to take her kids, and my 2-and-a-half-year-old son wanted to go along.

Since my friend’s kids weren’t used to tubing and my 2-and-a-half-year-old was not very comfortable in the water, we decided to take it easy.

The children came aboard and we went far enough out to pass the slow speed buoys that were close to shore.

After a 4- or 5-minute tube, I slowed down to let the kids back in the boat.

Just when I had nearly come to a stop, a small wave came over the tube. Because the kids were lying on their stomachs, the water lifted them slightly off the tube and caused my son to slide into the water. Since the ride was over, he wasn’t holding on tightly.

Although he was wearing a lifejacket, he was seized by panic when he fell into the deep water. The lifejacket had made him very unstable and when I saw his head underwater, I reacted instinctively as any father would. In the blink of an eye, I was up and leaping into the water without thinking to put on the lifejacket at my feet.

I went to my son, righted him, and managed to soothe him by speaking calmly.

I then turned back, preparing to grab onto the boat that would surely be coming back for us.

To my great surprise and disappointment, the boat never came back. I later realized that my friend had never turned the boat around for us because she had been unable to, possibly because of panic.

That was the moment I realized I was in extreme danger and needed help. I yelled and waved, but nobody saw me—nobody except my son, who looked at me with an expression I will never forget.

I may not be a professional swimmer, but I can take care of myself in the water. However, five minutes had passed and my t-shirt seemed to weigh 200 pounds. There was still no sign of a boat on the horizon.

That was the first time I slipped underwater involuntarily. I was completely exhausted. I tried to talk to my son and calm him, which seemed to work. I knew that I was in deep trouble and that I had little energy left. My head went underwater a second time. When I came up, I realized that I was gripping my son’s lifejacket to stay afloat and was pulling him under at the same time. Apparently this is a reflex when drowning.

Obviously, I didn’t want to drown my child. I told my son I loved him and pushed him away to avoid reflexively hanging on to his jacket.

I turned away from him and scanned the horizon for help. I saw nothing. In that instant, I knew that I would die. At 30, I would leave my wife a widow, alone to raise three children and a baby who would be born any day.

Having been in the water for 10 minutes, I was drained and beginning to sink. With no energy left to come back up, I had no hope of staying afloat. I was completely worn out.
Suddenly, from four feet below the surface, I saw the underside of a pontoon, two keels, and someone diving into the water. The person took my hand and brought me back to the surface.

I was then taken to shore, where an ambulance was called.

As horrible as the incident was, the aftermath was even worse. I had serious kidney problems as a result. I was just released from the hospital several days ago, and will still need to be monitored.

My reaction was pure instinct. Everything would be different had I only thought about my lifejacket. My four kids came very close to growing up without a father. I risked everything for that last tube ride with my youngest son. And yet our whole family usually wears lifejackets when on board—especially us as parents, to set a good example. I could have avoided all of this by wearing a lifejacket... at all times.”

The Red Cross wishes to remind all pleasure craft operators that a lifejacket within arm’s reach is always too far away. Wear your PFD at all times until the end of the season. Think of Jonathan, your own safety and that of your loved ones.
Health and Safety Tips: Lifejacket Wear and Boating Safety