A potentially catastrophic canoe trip was averted Wednesday evening when three Vancouver Island youth and a Vernon man dove to the rescue of three individuals in distress.
The trio of canoeists were out on Kalamalka Lake, near Kal Beach, when their boat capsized.
Gary Lefebvre, of Vernon, was visiting with family after playing volleyball at the beach when he heard a faint call for help.
“It was about 8 p.m. and the beach was clearing out and my three cousins were still having fun out in the water,” said Lefebvre.
“Before I could decide if I had actually heard someone call for help the three boys were quickly swimming out to help the canoeist,” said Lefebvre, who quickly followed suit behind Brennan Lund, 16, Connor Lund, 13, and Ethan Milne, 12 (all visiting from Cobble Hill – Vancouver Island).
“Once we reached the canoe there were three canoeists but only one of them was wearing a lifejacket. None of them were strong swimmers and couldn’t move the canoe.”
Lefebvre, who happens to be an aquatic supervisor at the Vernon Recreation Centre and has been a lifeguard for 20 years, helped the boys get the canoeists safely to shore.
“It was quite a long haul,” said Brennan, a competitive swimmer who instinctively swam out to help. “They were obviously quite stressed out.
“If no one had noticed them out there who knows what could’ve happened.”
The canoeists were both relieved and thankful that someone noticed their calls for help.
“At that time of night it could have been a while before anyone noticed them,” said Lefebvre, adding that while 24 C water feels warm it doesn’t take long before it can chill a person.
“Hypothermia could set in, they may attempt to swim for shore and not make it, currents could pull out into the lake.”
Lefebvre commends the heroic act of the three young boys.
“I was amazed at their bravery,” he said. “In my mind those kids are heroes and I think it is a good reminder to everyone to wear their PFD’s.”
A new review just completed by the Coroners Service shows that boating is significantly the highest-risk activity for drowning among recreational water users. A total of 37.5 per cent of persons who drowned in recreational cases in the five-and-a-half years from Jan. 1, 2008 to July 29, 2013, were engaged in some type of boating activity at the time. This included powerboats, rowboats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, and pontoon boats, and also those who were fishing from a boat when things went wrong.
The total number of accidental drownings from Jan. 1 to July 29 this year in B.C. is 45, exactly the average of the past five years and a slight decrease from 2012 figures. However, August is historically the month with the highest number of drowning cases, prompting a need for ongoing vigilance.