A Balfour couple that rescued a Fruitvale senior from the icy waters of Kootenay Lake early last week feels fortunate they were able to lend a hand.
Janice and Ken Cooper own Red Dog Marine on Balfour Wharf Road. On the dark and rainy Monday, November 18, they looked out upon the waters to a frightful sight — a boat about 50 feet from shore drifting toward their marina with someone behind in the water holding onto the bow line.
“It was just raining so hard out,” Janice told 103.5 The Bridge. “All we could see of him was his little face and his hands holding on for dear life onto this rope.”
They ran down to the water’s edge with Ken in the lead. The man was still out of reach as the boat drifted in the water and the Balfour man attempted to reach him with a pole he drew from his own boat.
“He was calling ‘I am tired. Please come help,’” said Janice. The man was so tired he couldn’t let go of the rope he was grasping. Janice tossed him a life preserver.
“I am such a klutz, I thought I was going to hit him and knock him out or throw it out of his reach,” remembered the woman. “But I got it right to him and he was able to slip into that.”
The couple was able to drag the man to shore and help him out of the lake. At the surface, the water’s temperature was less than nine degrees Celsius. Down deeper, it was colder, explained Janice. The man they’d rescued had likely been in that frigid water for 15 minutes if not more.
“He was very tired and chilled right through,” she said. “He was completely white and turning blue… I gave him some hot tea and he was shaking so hard he couldn’t get the cup to his mouth.”
“He was really well dressed for winter fishing so he had several layers of clothing and long underwear that was plastered to him so we had to peal all that off him and get warm and dry clothes onto him,” she continued.
Those clothes in a plastic bag made their way home to the rescued man’s wife, who weighed them in at 15 lbs because of all the water he’d soaked up, relayed Janice.
The couple called 911 and the Balfour/Harrop first responders came as well as an ambulance from Nelson.
The man explained to the couple that he’d been doing some cleaning and maintenance on his boat. He had been wearing a life jacket while on his boat and then took it off once he finished his work.
“He got into one of those situations where you’ve got one foot in the boat and one on the dock and fell the wrong way,” said Janice. “It’s ironic that he was wearing a PFD where most people don’t when they’re maintaining their boats but he just kind of slipped in.”
Had the Coopers not seen the man floating in the lake, they shudder to think of what might have happened. Considering the weather conditions, others may not have seen the man in time.
“It was an absolutely black day and when we got down there we looked up to the buildings around hoping I could flag down someone could help us. There was nobody,” said Janice. “I think we were very fortunate to see him in time to help.”
For the couple, sharing the experience isn’t about celebrating their heroic act but a concern for people using the water. Owning a marina, Janice said they often see people doing things that aren’t safe. She admitted her husband sometimes doesn’t wear a PFD or works on the boat at the marina alone.
“You don’t ever think that this is going to happen to you. This fellow was doing everything right and it was after he was finished that he took off the PFD and got into trouble.”
Janice hopes people will use caution at the water’s edge. She fell in one summer and struggled to get out. With winter water temperatures dipping so low, it makes navigating the lake much more difficult without the aid of a PFD.
The couple also suggested being prepared with gear such as blankets and a life preserver at the water’s edge, in their boat, helped them save time as they rescued the man.
The Coopers spoke to the man last Friday as he was released from hospital. Janice said the rescue exhausted her but she was happy it had such a positive outcome.
“The adrenaline that we had to put into it, I was exhausted for a few days after that,” she said. “I was just so happy and grateful we were there and knew what to do.”
— with files from Greg Nesteroff