Const. McTaggart wasn’t supposed to work Wednesday morning.
The four-year RCMP veteran had just got out of bed and was making a cup of coffee when he got a call from a colleague at the detachment in Grand Rapids, 420 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
His co-worker needed help on a file and asked McTaggart, who was scheduled to work a night shift, to come in and lend a hand. He agreed and went in to the office.
"I was getting ready to go home, walk the dog, have breakfast, then go back to bed for a bit, when the call for assistance came in," said McTaggart, who asked the Free Press not to print his first name.
A family was out at the bridge that crosses the Saskatchewan River and one of them, a man, started walking along the ice. His relatives were concerned for his safety due to recent warm weather, so they called the detachment.
McTaggart and his partner headed to the bridge.
"A lot of people here walk on the ice. It freezes pretty quickly, but the warm weather can change that," McTaggart said.
McTaggart is one of 90 Manitoba Mounties who have received training on how to conduct an ice rescue. He was the only person on duty that day with the experience.
When they got to the bridge, McTaggart began walking along the elevated ground, and said he could see a woman, the common-law partner of the man, down below near the river.
McTaggart made his way down the hill and as he did, he said the man came into view.
"Just as I came around the corner, that’s when he went into the water. He was right on the edge, standing on the edge, and he just went right in. It was an instant," McTaggart said.
"He immediately called for help and the current was pretty strong. You could see it. He was a big guy and it moved him pretty quickly. Before I knew it, he was already moving away from the shore and out towards Lake Winnipeg."
The man was carried downstream 15 to 25 metres before he managed to grab onto the edge of the ice and stop himself.
McTaggart said he radioed his colleagues and told them what had happened. Other emergency services, including paramedics and firefighters, were notified of the situation.
At his request, one of McTaggart’s colleagues grabbed his ice rescue bag from the office and drove to the river.
"I started moving down the shoreline calling out to him… The current was still pretty strong, because he twisted along the edge of the ice, but he managed to hold on," McTaggart said.
McTaggart said he knew from his training that people can survive in cold water for a while, but what causes them to drown is panic: they begin thrashing their limbs and become exhausted.
When his colleague arrived with the gear, McTaggart twice tried to throw a rope to the man to pull him out of the water, but both attempts failed. It became clear the man would not be able to get himself out of the water.
"His head is going under the ice. He’s still holding on, but he’s getting tired. He’s not speaking as much," McTaggart said.
McTaggart stripped off his gear, tied the rope around his chest, and had his colleagues hold onto the end of the rope to serve as an anchor. Then he got down on his stomach and began crawling across the ice towards the man.
"I’m sort of about five feet away. I’m talking to him, trying to keep him calm… He was scared. I could see his lips were blue. He was very cold… I could see symptoms of hypothermia," he said.
It took several attempts to heave the man onto the ice, but with the help of his colleagues, McTaggart was able to pull him out of the water. The man was treated at the scene by paramedics before being rushed to the local nursing station.
Soon after, McTaggart drove to the nursing station, where he was assessed by medical professionals.
"At one point, I went into the room where he was to check on him and he wanted to shake my hand, but with COVID, we just did a fist-bump," McTaggart said.
The man was suffering from hypothermia and had cut up his hands on the ice, while McTaggart had not been injured.
After he was cleared by the nurses, McTaggart went home. He said the adrenaline wore off and it began to dawn on him just how close the situation had been to turning deadly. He also realizes how fortunate it was that he had been called into work that morning, given the fact he was the only responding officer with ice rescue training.
McTaggart took a long hot shower at home.
Then he went back to work.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.