Vernon couple Carson Orr and Victoria (Torie) Emon went ahead with their Vancouver Island wedding Sunday, six hours after Emon’s mother died in an ocean accident off Long Beach, near Tofino.
Tofino RCMP received a report of a woman in distress in the water near a place called Lovekin Rock around 10:30 a.m.
“By the time emergency services arrived, people in the area, and other surfers, had assisted in removing her from the water and first aid was rendered, however, she did not survive,” said RCMP Cpl. Stu Hert.
Police did not release the identity of the woman, but Emon told the (Ucluelet) Westerly News the woman was her mother, Ann Wittenberg, and that the family was visiting Tofino for Emon’s wedding, which was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.
“She came from Ottawa to be here…She was so excited. Her and my sister were just floating talking about how much fun they were having and then they got sucked in,” said Emon.
“We are so thankful to everyone who helped our mom…They prayed for my mom on the beach. They kept my sister warm and they risked their lives so that we could have my mom back. We are forever grateful. I’m especially grateful for Ellen and her friend who kept my baby sister safe. That’s all my mom would have wanted.”
Emon said she and Orr went ahead with the 4:30 p.m. wedding because “Mom wanted us to.”
“We have had an overwhelming amount of support from family, friends and strangers, especially the people of Tofino,” said Orr, whose own grandfather missed the nuptials after being taken to hospital in Courtenay on Friday.
The Orrs had never been to the Tofino side of Vancouver Island. They took Ann to Nanaimo last year.
“We all love it down there, we heard lots of beautiful things about Tofino, so that’s where we decided to get married,” said Orr.
Hert said no foul play is suspected and added that locals and visitors must be aware of the risks posed by the ocean.
“Beaches in Tofino area are unsupervised,” he said. “People are responsible for their own safety and part of that is being aware that the ocean is unpredictable. The rip currents, the waves, all of that is unpredictable and it goes a long way to educate yourself about some of the common risks so you can try to avoid them.”
David Jensen was one of the bystanders who helped pull the woman from the ocean on Sunday morning and he is urging Tofino, Ucluelet and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to bring lifeguards back to Long Beach.
Jensen, a former local who now lives near Errington and visits the West Coast frequently to surf, told the Westerly News that he was out for a paddle off Long Beach when he heard someone in distress.
“I heard somebody screaming, and not that fun kind of scream,” Jensen said, adding he immediately began paddling towards where the sound came from around Lovekin Rock. “It was an obscured view because of the waves and I was a distance away… I paddled close enough to see there were a couple surfer guys who were helping somebody that was lying face down in the water. At that time and tide, that place is a very dangerous spot so those guys had put themselves in harm’s way to try to help this person.”
He said he made his way to the spot and helped the other two surfers trying to assist a woman who, he said, was unresponsive.
“The only thing going through my mind at that point was that this was her last chance, with the three of us that were there…We were trying our best; that’s all I can say,” he said. “We tried to get her onto the board, fighting the waves. The waves just knocked us around and knocked us around. We couldn’t get out of the break due to the current. That’s just the nature of that spot.”
He said it took roughly 15 minutes to get the woman onto the beach where a bystander performed CPR before paramedics arrived minutes later and transported the woman away in an ambulance.
Jensen said the incident could have been prevented if the surf guard tower that was torn down in 2012, was still in place. The surf guard program involved four lifeguards watching over Long Beach from the tower, located near Lovekin Rock, and it had been in place for roughly 40 years before being removed by the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve due to budget cuts in 2012.
Jensen said lifeguards would have immediately steered the surfer he helped try to rescue on Sunday away from Lovekin before the incident occurred.
“If there was a manned lifeguard tower there, that would have never happened today. That would have been stopped before that critical situation,” he said.
A University of Victoria student died after a surfing accident near Lovekin Rock on Feb. 10.
Two local surf instructors urged Tofino’s municipal council to put a lifeguard program in place during an Aug. 23 council meeting last year.