Near tragedy on lake offers lesson
By Darren Lum
Published July 5, 2018
South Lake cottager Spiro Papadatos has seen his share of irresponsible things done on the lake in his seven years of cottaging. However, several weeks ago, he witnessed a mistake that could have had severe consequences.
Papadatos was on his boat fishing South Lake on a quiet May evening, when he was called over by neighbours. They had seen a capsized canoe and two men and two children in distress near a weedy area at the north end of the lake.
The neighbours weren’t able to help right away as they needed to get their boat key.
“When I pulled them in the boat I was swearing a lot. Just because if [I had arrived] five minutes later I’d be pulling lifeless bodies out,” Papadatos said.
One of the men, who he said was ingesting water while attempting to keep one of the babies above the water, was in a bad way. He could see the man was breathing shallowly and had blue lips and his eyes were bloodshot. A few minutes later, paramedics arrived, thanks to Papadatos’s call to 9-1-1.
Papadatos said he’s telling this story at the behest of his wife. He said this incident was the result of an irresponsible decision to not wear life-jackets and can serve as a lesson for others.
From what Papadatos observed, the canoe and the life-jackets, which were worn by two women, were old and out of date. Some passengers did not have life-jackets on, though witness statements differ on who was or wasn’t wearing one.
The family seems to have been renting a place on the lake, Papadatos said. He said the incident happened not more than 200 yards from the cottage they were renting.
The incident left him frazzled.
“I couldn’t sleep that night,” he said. “My nerves were kind of a mess. It could’ve been worse. It was preventable. That was the thing. It wasn’t a freak accident. They put too many people in the boat. They didn’t have life-jackets on. Maybe they don’t understand that canoes are very tippy so you have to be prepared for that.”
Papadatos, who has two young children himself, said boating safety is foremost on his mind.
“I wouldn’t let my kids go out in my big boat without life-jackets. In a canoe, I wouldn’t bring them out because canoes are tippy and definitely not with six people,” he said.
A day after the rescue, he said the family visited him to express their appreciation with chocolates and words of thanks. They told him the two people taken to hospital were better and offered him a place to stay at their permanent residence in North York.
He acknowledged their thanks, but told them, “Be safe. I hope you learned a valuable lesson.”
Later in the day, Papadatos left for his Newmarket home after a nine-day stay at the cottage. It appeared no one else was at the residences between his cottage and the rented cottage where the family was staying. He didn’t see any boats tied at any of the docks across the lake. As the saying goes, timing is everything and for the visiting family, Papadatos’s timing was crucial to averting a tragedy.
His account of who was wearing life-jackets differs from information gathered in the OPP investigation, which resulted in no charges.
OPP Staff Sgt. Liane Spong said this investigation’s focus was on “what law could be enforced here.”
Transport Canada outlines the specific law related to personal flotation devices, or PFDs, and life-jackets.
It states that people are required by law to have one life-jacket or PFD on board for each person on a watercraft. This includes human-powered craft.
For children, it states “children should be within arm’s reach as well as wearing a proper flotation device at all times. A life-jacket or PFD must have a label stating it is approved by any of the following agencies: Transport Canada, Canadian Coast Guard and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.”
“The officer made their determination based on their examination of the life-jackets and the scene they were presented with and what they determined,” Spong said.
The police investigation included a statement from another witness on shore, who saw life-jackets.
Papadatos told the Minden Times he gave his statement to the OPP a little more than a week ago.
Spong said, “Further investigation as a result may follow that.”
She added that the police recommend life-jackets and PFDs be worn while on the water.
“It is dangerous to assume (regardless of what the situation that would have been reported) that you’ll be able to find and put on and fasten a PFD in the water,” Spong said. “Even if someone just had it with them, because there can be all kinds of factors that could affect that, generally speaking. You could have adverse wind and wave conditions. It makes it difficult. You could have an unexpected fall. Someone could be injured and of course cold water could seriously impede your ability to put on and fasten something.”
Although there are differing accounts of how many people were wearing life-jackets, the message everyone wants to be learned is that life-jackets and PFDs save lives and are most effective when worn.
“I think at the end of the day the message for the public is never underestimate how much protection a flotation device can give you. It’s called life-saving equipment for a reason and that’s why we promote that they be worn,” Spong said.