Moms know best.
Sisters Abby, 13, and Ashten Asimos, 11, visiting from Virginia Beach, Va., didn’t want to put lifejackets on before heading out for an inflatable kayak excursion from a relative’s home at Killiney Beach on Okanagan Lake Saturday around 7:30 p.m.
“The girls thought the lifejackets were ugly,” said their mom, Heather.
At the insistence of all the moms in the home (mom, aunt, grandmother) where the girls were staying, the sisters begrudgingly listened to the advice, put on lifejackets and set off onto the lake. They were told to “hug the shore,” or stay close to shore.
Dusk was approaching and the girls had yet to return.
Wayne and Michelle Carson were in their home near Killiney Beach watching politics on TV – Wayne is the Regional District of Central Okanagan director for Central Okanagan-West – when they heard people talking and yelling outside their home.
“I went out to the deck to see what was going on, recognized a few people and learned that the girls hadn’t returned from being on the kayak,” said Wayne, who spent 20+ years as fire chief of the North Westside Fire Department.
Heather and her brother-in-law had been walking along the shore, looking for the girls. They were asking residents if they’d seen the girls. Nobody had.
“I’m a woman of faith and God and started praying for my girls,” said Heather. “No one on shore had seen them and I thought ‘that’s not good.’”
Heather really started to get scared, she said, when she was taken to another shore and still there was no sign of her daughters.
Ken Finch asked Heather if he could take her and family members out on their boat to look for the girls, which, of course, she gratefully accepted.
They happened to drive by Heather’s brother and brother-in-law who were on a dock and the brother was pointing out into the lake, near the middle.
He had binoculars and saw the kayak.
Carson, who knows Heather’s parents, was told this and headed on his sea-doo to the spot. He arrived just before Heather and the boat, expecting to find the girls in the kayak, put them aboard his sea-doo and bring them and the kayak back to shore.
The kayak was empty.
“My heart just dropped,” said Carson.
So, too, did Heather’s.
But because the girls were wearing lifejackets, and because Heather received a text from her mom saying she could hear the girls yelling, hope remained.
“When I found out they were wearing lifejackets, now it’s like we hope we find them kicking and screaming for us to rescue them,” said Carson, who initiated a search pattern for the girls. He split the lake into what he called a “pie-shape.”
“It was in the second slice of pie, I caught something out of the corner of my eye, and it was the girls,” said Carson. “They were very hard to see. One couldn’t even wave she was so cold and exhausted.”
Seconds later, the boat with Heather arrived.
Abby and Ashten live 10 minutes away from the Atlantic Ocean, swim there every summer, and are given warnings about watching for riptides. Lakes, said their mom to the girls, are a different body of water.
Even though they were hugging the shore, the girls had been blown out toward the middle by the strong winds.
Ashten, the bigger and stronger of the sisters, and a good swimmer, decided to try and swim to shore. When she left the inflatable kayak, it tipped and both girls were in the cold lake.
“When they were found, they were holding each other to keep warm and yelling for help,” said Heather, grateful to Carson – her girls now refer to their rescuer as ‘Jetski Jesus’ – and the Killiney Beach community for their help and support.
“It was amazing, I was blown away. I’m so thankful,” said Heather. “God put us in the right place at the right time. Everyone pitched in; the firemen, ambulance responders and local people gave an excellent example of goodwill and care to our American children. I’m more than grateful.”
Abby and Ashten realize lifejackets are a beautiful thing.
“They don’t care if they’re ugly, they’ll always be wearing them,” said Heather, urging people to use lifejackets and take precaution when going out in inflatable kayaks, especially if the wind picks up.
For Carson, after years of dealing with fatal accidents along Westside Road, and some drownings in the lake as a first responder, he was glad this story had a happy ending.
“The successes far outweigh everything,” said Carson. “I felt great that night that I was able to help.”