Fishing trip turned fiery rescue
PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS
Hudson resident Allan Potvin said it feels good to have helped someone after he himself was rescued from the water by his neighbour during the flooding of 2017.
By Nick Zacharias
In a dramatic aquatic rescue, Hudson resident Allan Potvin pulled a stranger from almost certain death in the cold waters of the Lake of Two Mountains on the morning of Tuesday, September 15. The stranger, who was sailing with another man when their boat went up in flames from a reported electrical problem from a heating appliance, had gone into the water leaving the unsalvageable craft behind as it burned out of control. Potvin, an avid fisherman who was in his own boat when the incident occurred, saw the column of black smoke in the distance and raced out to investigate.
Two men in the water
“I was just out fishing when I saw the smoke,” said Potvin, “I wasn’t even sure if it was on land or on the water.” When he arrived at the scene not far from the Île aux Tourtes Bridge, he saw immediately that it was serious. As the first to arrive, he came upon a sailboat that was completely engulfed, and spotted two men in the water who had clearly jumped overboard to escape the flames.
“There was one guy who looked like he’d been injured but he was okay, he was floating safely about 30 feet away from the fire and I could see he was moving and staying above water. But there was another one, an older gentleman, who was just a few feet away, almost right under the burning boat,” said Potvin. “He was in a lot of trouble.” Potvin said that by the time he got close enough to help, the man could barely keep above water.
Without a lifejacket on, the man had resorted to clinging to a boat bumper tied to a rope to stay afloat. “He was obviously in shock. His head kept going under, and when I tried to reach him he couldn’t even get a hold on the bumper anymore, he was just gripping the slack on the rope and sinking.”
PHOTO BY ALLAN POTVIN
The small boat from which the father and son team had to abandon due to the flames was a total write-off.
Pulled up just in time
Potvin had to maneuver his boat around and make a couple of attempts to get at the victim. Bruising himself quite badly in the process, Potvin managed to pull the man from beneath the surface, relieved to see that he was still breathing.
“The bumper was moving away as I stuck my finger in it’s eye-hole and prayed he was holding on to the rope at the other end. I pulled the bumper, at first there was no weight, no resistance. Then the line went taut and his head broke the surface. I grabbed his chest and heaved him up a bit, told him to catch his breath, I’ll hold on. He was gasping, coughing … I could feel his heart racing.”
Without the strength to haul the man single-handedly over the high edge of his boat, Potvin had to settle for holding his head above water and making sure he could breathe while they waited for more help to arrive. “I tried to get him up, but he had all these heavy layers on and he had no strength to help – he was sheet white and looked like he thought he was a goner. I told him to just breathe, I wouldn’t let him go under again.” With all the smoke in the air it didn’t take long for more help to come.
No time for pleasantries
Said Potvin, “A couple of guys came up in a red inflatable boat, I thought at first they were the Coast Guard. They picked up the guy in the water first, then came to help with the one I was holding. By then he was breathing better and he thanked me profusely, saying he would have died. I told him I was glad he didn’t!”
In all the confusion and excitement, Potvin didn’t get the names of the victims or the ones who came to help – who he later heard were not Coast Guard but had actually come from the sailing club in Vaudreuil-Dorion. Seeing that the two men were in good hands, Potvin went his own way and let them get to shore for medical assistance.
Potvin, whose acts may have gone unrecognized if a friend hadn’t reached out share his tale with The Journal, had to be saved from the water himself not that long ago.
“During the flood in 2017, I went out in my hip waders to rescue a piece of dock that was floating away. I tripped and fell all the way in, and the waders filled up. The cold water hit me like a wall of ice and took my breath away – I’d somehow managed to turn face up, but I was gasping in shock and couldn’t get myself up with the weight of the water – I was going under.” Luckily, his neighbour Alexandra Leus was nearby in her canoe, and she lept out to pull him to safety. “She jumped into the water and saved my life, she’s a real hero. So after that it sort of feels good to have been there for someone else who needed help.”
Potvin only regrets that in all the confusion he didn’t get the names of the men, and as of press time, The Journal was unable to get that information from the sailing club or from the Vaudreuil-Dorion Fire Department. Said Potvin, “It would be nice to follow up and talk to the guy, and make sure he’s okay.”
The names of the father and son who were saved have not been released, but according to Captain Jacques Fellis of the Vaudreuil-Dorion Fire Department, the gentleman rescued by Potvin suffered no further injuries beyond the shock of the cold ordeal, while his son suffered first and second-degree burns to his forearms and face and is recovering.