Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Victims' faces haunt survivor

Four slipped away in churning waters of lake

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THE sole survivor of a tragic boating accident in the Interlake can't shake the image of her daughter slipping away from her in the churning waters of Lake Winnipeg.

Emma Young of Bloodvein First Nation said yesterday she's haunted by the faces of her 21-year-old daughter Judy Fisher and three other victims of the accident, which occurred Friday night.

"I could see my daughter and yelled for her to swim to me. But the current was taking her," Young told the Free Press last night at a downtown Winnipeg hotel.

"I called her name three or four times -- but there was no answer. I lost her."

The accident happened Friday about 9:30 p.m. when a 20-foot boat carrying the group from Matheson Island to Bloodvein, a community about 260 kilometres north of Winnipeg, capsized in high waves.

The group had been grocery shopping in Riverton.

"I can't sleep. I see these people struggling, trying to swim to me," Young, left to care for Judy's three children, said through tears. "I'm trying to deal with this as best I can, but how do you?"

Young, who clung to the boat for hours and then swam to a nearby island, was finally rescued Saturday evening -- about 22 hours after the accident.

The bodies of her daughter Judy and sister-in-law Norma Fisher were recovered that night.

The search for Judy's common-law husband Curtis Denechezhe, 27, and boat operator Dean Green, 32, continued last night.

Young said the boat was not equipped with life vests.

She said the boat ride from the mainland to Matheson Island was very rough, but the final leg of the 20-kilometre trip turned into a nightmare.

"When we were in the channel, a big wave hit the boat and all of a sudden we were in the water," said Young, 43. "I could see Norma coming to the surface and I told her to hang on to the boat. I saw Dean and told him to hang on.

"Then I saw Judy. I was calling and calling."

Young said she, her sister-in-law and Green grabbed the overturned boat and kicked toward shore, though her left arm was going numb from the cold.

"Norma had ahold of my jacket sleeve, but she was slipping and slipping," said Young "I tried to grab her, but all I saw was her arm. She finally just sank."

Young said she focused on Green and tried to encourage him to keep kicking to shore. The two managed to make it to the rocky edge of Doghead Island, and she was able to crawl to safety.

Green, however, couldn't pull himself out.

"A big wave came and washed him away," Young said. "I yelled and I yelled at him. I couldn't look for him, I was so weak."

Young said she collapsed underneath a tree, but continued to call out to the other victims throughout the night.

"I was cold and soaking wet. I just cried and cried."

When morning broke, Young tried to wave down a small airplane by waving her jacket in the air, but without success. She searched for the others throughout the day, even swimming to a few other islands.

"I didn't want to believe they were gone, even though I knew they were," she said.

Finally, she was located that night by Search and Rescue/Coast Guard personnel.

She spent Saturday night and part of Sunday in the nurse's station in Bloodvein.

"I don't know why I was spared. I haven't swam in years. I don't know where the strength came from," said Young, in Winnipeg with several family members yesterday to make funeral arrangements.

"It keeps crossing my mind -- why didn't I drown, too?"

Young is still grieving the death of another daughter, Crystal Fisher, who was found dead in a home in Winnipeg. Autopsy results are still pending, said Young, who has two remaining daughters. Her husband is currently incarcerated.

The entire family will share in raising Judy and Curtis' two daughters, aged three and two, and their seven-month-old son, she said.

"It's too much for me to bear," said Young. "But I have to stay strong for the children."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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