Phoenix Computers owner Scott Newland spent two frigid hours in Kokanee Creek this month after trying to rescue a friend’s dog. He broke his arm but considers himself lucky to be alive.

Phoenix Computers owner Scott Newland spent two frigid hours in Kokanee Creek this month after trying to rescue a friend’s dog. He broke his arm but considers himself lucky to be alive.

Snagged jacket saved Nelson man from drowning

As he fought the raging waters of Kokanee Creek that turned him upside down and tossed him against trees and boulders, Scott Newland accepted he probably wouldn’t survive.

As he fought the raging waters of Kokanee Creek that turned him upside down and tossed him against trees and boulders, Scott Newland accepted he probably wouldn’t survive.

“I actually said to myself ‘I guess this is how you go — drowning,” he recalled this week.

“I was almost at peace with it, because as much as I tried, I was kind of helpless.”

Yet if his time had come, the creek was going to exact maximum punishment first: “I started to think ‘This is taking a long time.’ I’m really taking a beating if I’m going to drown.”

Newland, the proprietor of Nelson’s Phoenix Computers, had been out for a Sunday walk on the old growth trail about 10 km up Kokanee Glacier Road with Joyce Jackson, owner of Lonnie’s Lingerie, plus Jackson’s niece Cheryl Ryman and Jackson’s beloved Pomeranian poodle, Buttercup.

Along the way, they saw signs that said “Bridge out ahead, 2008,” but figured they must be old and the bridge would be repaired by now. Not quite: although the portion over the creek was fixed, the approach wasn’t. Still, they decided it was safe enough to cross.

Newland went first and stepped to the side. He picked Buttercup up and set her down, but she slipped and fell into the creek. Newland immediately jumped in after her.

“The main reason I did it was because it was a small dog and it was instinct,” he says. “I decided to jump in probably before she even hit the water.”

He doesn’t know exactly how far he dropped, but says he landed “like a slingshot,” hitting bottom before surfacing. He saw Buttercup paddling about eight feet away and planned to grab her and fling her to shore. However, “according to the girls, I spun around, went upside down, slammed into a rock, and they lost sight of me around the corner.”

From there it’s a bit of a blur; Newland only remembers being thrown about underwater. “It’s like being in a boxing ring in the dark. You’re just trying desperately to survive while constantly getting slammed in the face and side.”

As he swallowed a lung full of water, he still hoped to get his bearings and find the dog. But the creek wouldn’t settle down, he had trouble catching air, and began to expect the worst.

Suddenly, his jacket caught on something. He found himself stopped in the creek, lying on his back with his feet up, arms behind him, and face just above water. With his left hand, he could feel bottom. He steadied himself by grabbing onto a rock, and noticed a log nearby, “about the size of one of those bucking broncos at a cowboy bar.”

It had a little knob at the far end, and he was going to reach for it, but couldn’t feel or see his right arm. He wiggled it out of his jacket to discover it was broken. Somehow — he can’t remember how — he ended up straddling the log, holding onto the knob. No one else was around, and he didn’t know how far he had travelled.

“I had to get my feet out of the water, so I ended up sitting in the lotus position on this log,” he says. A little further down, he saw a “massive” tree lying across the creek.

“If I’d gone 20 more feet and was above the water, which I probably would have been, I would be dead,” he says. “I would have slammed into that log like getting hit by a car.”

Instead, the log actually helped, since a branch dangled in front of him — tempting him like the brass ring on a carousel. Despite his broken arm, he reached up and held on to it.

“The thing I was sitting on was like Vaseline,” he says. “At this point I’m absolutely frozen and I thought my legs might have been broken because they had these massive contusions.”

It was in this position — left hand on the knob, right hand on the branch — that Ryman found him and told him Jackson had gone for help. However, as he waited, he feared hypothermia would overtake him. Twice he was about to try to get himself to safety.

“I’m thinking I’m going to steady myself, leap onto this log and before I get swept away, leap onto shore.” Ryman, however, yelled at him to stay put. (A wise decision, for he later learned the log would never have supported him.)

“Cheryl was keeping my spirits up,” Newland says. “The best thing she said to me was ‘search and rescue’s coming.’ I immediately had this extra surge of energy and confidence.”

In the meantime, a couple of other hikers arrived, one of whom threw him a blanket.

“I still don’t know who she was,” he says, “but I can’t tell you how much that helped me. I was freezing and this blanket was keeping in whatever body heat I had.”

The swift water team arrived to perform a rope rescue, and Newland was finally taken out on Chris Armstrong’s back. “He put me down on this log partway through, then I got back on him.

They basically got me tied and pulled me up, like tug-of-war, except I was on the other end.”

He was taken to hospital with hypothermia, a broken arm, and various bruises, but released the same day. He also has nerve damage in his face, and when he stands, “my knees are so sore I feel like I’m 90.”

But he considers himself lucky: “I didn’t lose any teeth or an eye or a toe. It was just getting beaten up. Hopefully the nerves in my face will come around.”

Certainly the outcome could have been tragic. Armstrong told him that when he got the call, he thought he was going to recover a body.

“I can see why. I worked to get my head above water, but only affected my situation in a minor way,” Newland says. “I think ultimately surviving was luck. But with a little bit of determination and will you can last longer.”

He returned to work this week. He says he hasn’t thought much about his ordeal — rather, he is heartbroken for Jackson and her dog. (Searches produced no sign of Buttercup.)

“I would do anything for Joyce,” he says. “I know what happened to me sounds pretty dramatic, but losing that dog is just awful. It was really important to me and it was everything to her.”

Despite a warning from RCMP and search and rescue not to chase a pet into water, Newland, 45, says he wouldn’t categorically tell someone they shouldn’t do it.

“What I will tell you is you don’t have a lot of control. If you’re jumping in the water for a purpose, you better accomplish that purpose in three to five seconds. If you don’t, you’re not going to be able to.”