An impeccably timed rescue effort by quick-thinking fishermen saved the lives of two canoeists whose boat capsized on Lake Winnipeg this morning.
Al Roschuk, the provincial health and safety coordinator for the department of Conservation and Water Stewardship, said he got a worried call from one of his staff members, Stacey Ledingham, around 10 a.m. today.
Ledingham noticed a 12-foot aluminum canoe sitting upright near the Arnes harbour gate, about 21 kilometres north of Gimli. Minutes later when she looked back to where the canoe had been, she saw it had flipped.
Roschuk promptly called his conservation staff on Lake Winnipeg, who were already nearby tending to a zebra mussel prevention project.
"I asked the crew that was ejecting potash in the harbor, the ASI group of contractors from Ontario, to assist in the emergency situation. They unhooked their boat form the potash hose and drove out from the harbour," he said.
Meanwhile, another conservation staff member, Dave Jonasson, ran down to the ice house near the Arnes harbour where some local fishermen were hanging around. Jonasson explain the situation to the fisherman, and they rushed off to rescue the capsized canoeists too.
The crew of five fishermen, captained by Brad Benson, had a speedier boat than the ASI contractors, so they were the first group on the scene at the flipped canoe.
The fishermen pulled the two men and their canoe onto their boat.
Roschuk said the two men were from Winnipeg, whom he estimated were in their mid-forties.
"People usually know better because it’s so unpredictable with the waves, the wind and the weather," he said. "The boats the fishermen use are all designed for big water and that canoe was in no way intended to be on that water."
By the time the fishermen brought the two canoeists back to shore, an ambulance was on the scene to attend to the boaters.
The ambulance crew said the men suffered mild hypothermia, but were otherwise in stable condition. They were in the water for about seven to ten minutes, according to Roschuk.
Both men were driven home to their families by the fishermen shortly thereafter.
Roschuk said both men are expected to make a full recovery, but wouldn’t have been so lucky if it weren’t for the combined efforts of so many on Lake Winnipeg.
"They were hanging onto that canoe for dear life," said Roschuk. "The attentiveness of the zebra mussel employees, the quick response of the ASI group and the commercial fishermen saved those two lives without a doubt."