A south Okanagan teenager is thanking those who helped save his life. Thursday afternoon he plunged through a thin section of ice on Tuc el Nuit lake in Oliver.
Like many valley lakes, it is freezing over in the colder temperatures. The seemingly cold surface can also give a false sense of security and that was the case for 16-year-old Denilson Ventura-Becker.
“I just walked on it and it just cracked under me because I didn’t know,” says Ventura-Becker.
Most of his body was submerged in the freezing cold water for more than half an hour as crews tried to reach him. Denilson Ventura-Becker says he wasn’t sure he’d make it out alive.
“When it cracked under me I got terrified,” says Ventura-Becker.
His mother got a call from a passerby who stopped to help. She was inside their nearby home and quickly ran over as soon as she heard what happened to her son, who has special needs.
“He just had his hands above the ice […] he was just holding himself there. We would call his name and he wouldn’t move too much, he would just kind of wiggle his fingers sort of. He wouldn’t exert too much energy,” says his mother Jamie Becker.
Becker watched the rescue effort fearing for her autistic son’s life.
“I was extremely scared because I didn’t know if it broke another way he could have slipped and gone under. That would have been more dangerous,” says Becker.
Neighbours, like Al Niven, tried to help before the Oliver Fire Department arrived.
“Well his brothers came knocking on my door and asked to use my boat and I said you can’t have it, you can’t go on the boat then he said, ‘no my brother is drowning’ and then it was just a panic scene from there,” says Niven.
The Oliver Fire Department says ice rescues are rare in the area. In fact, this was their second one in about two decades. As a result crews had limited resources and training for this type of rescue and had to make do with what they had.
“We did have a canoe arrive on scene so a couple of our members paddled out to the individual and used a rope bag to get out to him and hold onto. We then pulled him out of the water and got him into the canoe and back to shore,” says Rob Graham with the Oliver Fire Department.
Acknowledging it’s amazing Ventura-Becker wasn’t hypothermic or injured, on Friday he took the time to thank some of those who jumped to his rescue. He also advised others not to walk onto the frozen lake, no matter how solid it may look.
On the same day this incident happened, the West Kelowna Fire Department was doing its annual ice rescue training on Shannon Lake and had issued a warning about the dangers of thin ice at this time of year.