Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dad perishes saving son

Boy, 5, pulled from water as fishing trip turns tragic

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A 40-year-old father who could barely swim drowned after he dived into the turbulent waters of the Fairford River in a desperate attempt to save his five-year-old son.

However, just before Rolando Purificacion disappeared beneath the surface, he was able to push his boy, Nathan, to safety.

The child was released from Children's Hospital yesterday afternoon after an overnight stay.

"Everybody is just so devastated," said Eva Villanueva, Purificacion's twin sister. "God has a plan for everything but it's difficult to accept."

Yesterday, Villanueva and other family members gathered at their parents' north-end home.

The only son among 11 daughters, Purificacion grew up with the nickname "Boy".

He was a plumber by trade, and family and friends knew he could fix anything.

"We used to call him MacGyver," said Villanueva, referring to the popular 1980s TV action show.

About the only thing Purificacion couldn't do was deliver a punchline.

"The only bad thing about him were his jokes," said Villanueva.

She described her brother as a man devoted to his family and church.

In fact, it was his commitment to church that took him out to the Interlake Saturday morning.

Purificacion, his wife Omega and their two young children, along with his brother-in-law's family and another friend, were at Eagle Bay, a Bible camp about 10 kilometres south of the Fairford Dam.

Purificacion took a videotape of the campground to show to members of his congregation. The church was planning to camp there later this month.

However, Purificacion was not one to pass up a chance to do a little fishing and, after the video shoot, the group decided to toss their lines in at the Fairford Dam and try their luck.

"He loved fishing and camping," said another sister.

Ironically, this past weekend was the annual Family Fishing Weekend, during which anglers in the province can fish without licences.

The Fairford Dam is located where Highway 6 crosses the Fairford River, about 240 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

At about 11:30 a.m., a worker at the Fairford Bridge Convenience Store said, a frantic Omega burst in, asking her to call police.

"She said something about her boy floating... we assumed he had drowned," said the woman.

Stuart Sanderson, who was also working at the store at the time, ran back to the scene with Omega.

"There was a guy on the bridge searching for the father and there was a boy on the shore with a few people around him," said Sanderson.

RCMP Const. Robb Karaim said a passerby had pulled Nathan from the water and gave the boy CPR.

The other family members had been on the other side of the river at the time.

"We don't know who that person was but we just want to thank them for saving Nathan," said Fely Purificacion, another sister of Rolando.

Purificacion's body was pulled from the river that same day by about 7 p.m.

The area is a popular fishing spot, with pickerel the main catch.

The dam is used to regulate water levels on Lake Manitoba.

RCMP say the waters can be quite choppy, particularly at the spillway where Purificacion and his son were fishing. Water flows out of the control structure at about 700 cubic feet per second.

At about five metres, it's also probably the deepest part of the river.

Villanueva said she was told by family members who were there that Nathan was playing on the bank when he slipped into the water.

She said her brother quickly jumped in when he heard the cries of his son.

"The current sucked him in... The next thing you knew he was gone," said Villanueva.

Purificacion and his family came to Winnipeg from the Philippines a little more than 20 years ago.

For the last decade, they have been members of the Living Christ Community Church at the corner of Wellington Avenue and Valour Road.

Rolando Purificacion headed up Bible study and was seen as a leader in the church, said Pastor Ariel Antonio.

"He had humility and believed in serving people," said Antonio. "There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for you."

He said visitors to the Baptist church were always greeted by Purificacion's smiling face.

"One of things that most of us can't accept in life is why God takes the good ones," said Antonio.

david.kuxhaus@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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