Every morning at 9:30, if Simona Kolarova is home from work, she takes her three-year-old dog Misha for a walk in the dog park.
On an ordinary day, Kolarova would have taken the car. This Thursday, July 3, however, she decided to walk. She didn’t expect to be getting home in a police car, soaking wet with mild hypothermia, scratches along her forearms and very happy to be alive.
Constables Ricardo Gomez and Chris Kainz were on the last hour of their shift patrolling along the east wall of Toronto harbour. Due to recent thunderstorms, marine debris was floating in the middle of the lake and along the harbour walls. Some of it is collected by the city and pushed against the harbour wall, forming a debris field. As Kainz maneuvered the high-speed patrol boat towards Polson Quay, on the east end of the harbour, checking to see if vessels in the harbour were safe from the debris field, he saw a black Labrador standing on a log. Just ahead of the dog, floating in the water amongst the debris, he saw something else.
“At first I thought it was another dog,” says Kainz, but he quickly realized it was a woman.
She wasn't moving and was making no sound. “We thought she had given up,” said Gomez, but they could see she was still alive. The two constables moved in quickly to pull her from the water. Their quick thinking would save Kolarova and Misha who, according to Gomez, may only have had ten more minutes before drowning in the water, still cold despite warm summer weather.
The first thing Gomez thought was “rescue and save a life”. The two men worked as a team, Kainz expertly maneuvered the boat as close as possible to the sea wall and debris field, while Gomez jumped on the hull of the boat and moved towards Kolarova, all the while calling out to her and assuring her.
In the meantime, Kolarova had been in the water for a good twenty minutes and was thinking about how to pull herself onto the concrete shoreline, more than six feet above her. She was even more worried about Misha, who was balancing precariously on a log.
How did she get there?
On her way back from walking Misha, Kolarova decided to venture closer to the water. It was a nice day and she was enjoying looking at the boats. Close to Cherry Street, Kolarova walked through an abandoned parking lot and away from where anyone would be able to see her, or hear her, to get a better vantage point.
Ahead of her, near the water, was where the debris field had been pushed and surrounded by heavy logs to keep it from floating away. “From the distance you could only see the water, not the debris” says Kolarova, which is why she thinks Misha dashed towards the water and fell in.
She quickly ran towards Misha, whom the family had adopted three years earlier after their puppy had died. When she got to the edge of the water, she realized Misha was nearly six feet below, struggling in the mess of wood and trash. At first, she leaned over to help her but, when a frightened Misha struggled even more, Kolarova carefully put one leg over the wall and tried to steady herself on a floating piece of wood. Not being able to get close enough to Misha, she turned around. She was now hanging flat against the sea wall, one foot wedged into a crack in the wall and the other in the air. Half hanging, and realizing she would not be able to save her drowning dog, she looked all around her but could see no one. As Misha struggled, Kolarova did what any loving dog-owner would, and went into the water, scooped up the dog and helped her onto a log. She then hung onto a piece of wood.
“The water around me was heavy, even if I wanted to, I couldn't swim.”
At first she tried to get up the wall, but it panicked the dog too much. She saw a rope about seven metres away from her, but the debris was too thick to swim through. “I couldn't even scream for help” she says, “no one was around anywhere.”
She kept herself calm and kept thinking of ways to get her and Misha out of there. As minutes ticked by, Kolarova stayed calm and tried to get over the wall somehow but, with nothing to hold on to, she was unsuccessful. As she floated in the water, she says she only thought about surviving; the possibility of drowning didn't come to her mind. “I am a fighter, I just didn't think about it” she says, which is when she heard Gomez calling out to her.
According to Gomez, she was cold and tired and scared, but not panicked when they got to her.
While Kolarova could only float helplessly, thinking of possible ways to get out, she was lucky that the two Marine Unit constables saw her. “If the storm has rolled in then, not even a Marine officer would have survived that” says Kainz. The storm, which started right after Kolarova was rescued, would have caused rough waves to push the debris against the wall, crushing or pushing down whoever was caught amongst it.
It was out of this world, where did they come from? It felt like angels showed up from nowhere
As Constable Gomez helped Kolarova out of the water, with a ring buoy and a rope, Kainz reached Misha and got her safely to shore.
“When they pulled me out, I started crying, the shock hit me then” says Kolarova. “I don’t have any words...they were exceptionally nice in that situation where I was feeling embarrassed and all kinds of other emotions.
“It was like a family member coming to help you, not like a stranger or official person. They were so concerned and compassionate. I can't describe it really,” says Kolarova.
For the two Marine Unit officers, it was a career rescue. For a vessel on patrol to rescue a person alive with no bystanders to call for help is very rare says Kainz. And to save someone from almost certain death?
“It felt good. We were at the right place at the right time.” says Gomez.