Two teenagers are lucky to be alive after being rescued by Marine officers from rough waters, minutes before nightfall set in, on Lake Ontario August 12.
Marine officers, led by Sergeant Eric Goodwin, rescued the friends who had ventured into the lake on a small dinghy without safety equipment.
A few hours after leaving shore near the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant in the Beaches, one of the teenagers used his cellphone to alert police that they were in desperate need of help.
“The call came in about 20:45 and the young man said they were caught in high winds offshore,” recalled Goodwin. “When they started boating, the water would have been calm right beside the shore. There wouldn’t have been much of a breeze. Unfortunately, they got caught in the winds and were pushed out towards the lake.”
Constables Natasha Zver and Daniel Phillips were dispatched in a Marine rescue boat to locate the teens in the rapidly deteriorating conditions.
“One of the issues, at the time that rescue craft was sent out, was that there was a conflict between what the victim was reporting and the data we were receiving from his cell phone,” Goodwin pointed out. “We have a new system in place that allows us to establish a coordinate of the phone. That is part of the new technology that is actually saving lives. The young man who made the call from the dinghy estimated he was about two miles offshore when, in fact, he was actually five nautical miles out.”
With darkness quickly setting in, and Zver and Phillips unable to find the youths, Goodwin and Constable Kevin Lee joined the search.
If anyone fell overboard in those conditions without self-rescue equipment, they would simply have perished.
“The conditions were very rough and we were encountering six-foot waves in the choppy water,” Goodwin said. “If anyone fell overboard in those conditions without self-rescue equipment, they would simply have perished. It would have been very difficult to survive if they went overboard.”
Sailing in a southeast direction, Goodwin – out of the corner of his eye – saw what appeared to be debris floating in the water.
“Sure enough, it was the dinghy,” he said. “What the young men didn’t appreciate is that, when you are out in the water in such conditions, you blend right into the water. Their dinghy was green, they were wearing dark clothes and their hair was black. We were lucky to see them. When we found them, they were in last light, meaning they were down to mere minutes of light. By the time we rescued them and turned the boat around, I had difficulty distinguishing where I was at the time. We were far out and I had to constantly refer to our top-of-the-line electronic equipment on board to get back safely. If they had taken a wave over the top of that vessel and capsized, that would have been it. They would have been finished.”
Goodwin praised the other officers and a paramedic for the excellent job they performed under challenging circumstances.
“They did a fantastic job,” he said. “The thing is, however, we were quite lucky to find the youths.”
As part of a rescue mission, Marine officers are mandated to notify the Canadian Coast Guard, who would have been deployed if Marine was unable to make the rescue.
Goodwin warned boaters to take precautionary measures before venturing out into open water in Lake Ontario.
“The one thing we always say to boaters is to check sites on the Internet, like Environment Canada that has a marine section, to get weather condition updates and predictions,” he said. “Boaters, when they receive their training and certificate for operation of a small vessel, have a responsibility to do proper research and prepare themselves to go out on open water. Failing to do that can end up in the loss of life.”