Cynthia and Jason Cherewayko are thankful everyone is safe after an afternoon at Grand Beach quickly turned into a life-threatening situation on Saturday.
The couple, who are cottagers at Grand Beach, say they noticed the wind had pushed two young girls on floaties too far away from shore
“I heard a dad yell, ‘You’re too far’ so I stood up, as a mom, and I looked, and I said to my husband, those kids are too far,” Cynthia told Global News.
“And then we saw the dad starting to head out, and I said, ‘Jason, these kids aren’t going to make it. That dad is not going to make it to both of them, because they’re on two separate floaties.'”
Cynthia and Jason quickly jumped into action, grabbing their own flotation devices and heading into the frigidly cold water.
“I was able to get to the dad and the daughter, the first one. (The dad) was obviously in a panicked state trying to get the second child,” Cynthia said. “I grabbed them, my husband kept going to go get the other little girl.”
Brett Chestley was also nearby and jumped into the water to help Cynthia with the father and one girl.
“The water looked more or less calm until you realize how strong the winds are behind you,” Chestley said, adding that the temperature of the water made it difficult to breathe.
“What kept going through my mind is how hard it is to breathe for all of us, and the dad has been out there desperately trying to get his kid back for longer than I was and so was Cynthia, I was terrified somebody was going to pass out. It seemed like a real possibility,” Chestley said.
“I don’t like thinking about it. I thought maybe the little girl, the dad, Cynthia, or myself, any of us could just pass out right there. And if that happened, there is no way anybody is going to save one of us. It wouldn’t have happened.”
“You could see the little girl in our tube was blue in the face. Teeth chattering,” he added. “We kept saying ‘honey we just need you to hold on’ because she looked really scared. We just said ‘hold on, don’t let go’.”
They say Jason and the second girl were well out past the point.
“Once I got the dad and daughter where we were able to stand up, I saw how far my husband had gotten with the other little girl,” Cynthia said. “I knew they were past the point and I knew he wouldn’t be able to swim through that wind.”
They say the entire beach community stepped up and took action. Another person, named Blake, came to their aid with his kayak.
“Once I got out of the water and finally saw Blake there with that kayak, I knew there was hope for my husband and that girl to get out of the water,” Cynthia said.
Everyone was able to make it to shore.
“I know Blake, Cynthia, and Jason won’t use the word hero, but to me they are,” Chestley said. “It chokes me up just to think about it. The three of them, they didn’t stop to think, they ran straight into the water. They didn’t know how cold it was, they didn’t know how to get back.”
The province does staff Grand Beach with beach safety officers, but only from June 3 to September 6. Cynthia says she would like to see that change to the May long weekend.
“People are paying to come into the park. Yes, we have beach safety officers, yes it’s swim at your risk, but the beach safety officers don’t start work until June,” she said. “The ambulance didn’t get there for an hour and maybe 20 or 30 minutes after the call. The rescue boat wasn’t there until we were maybe an hour 45 to maybe two hours after the first 911 call was made.”
They also say it shows just how quickly a situation can turn dangerous.
“I think the message of always keep an eye on your kids, it’s been said many times. I think it’s a really good message to take away from this but I also would challenge you to find a single parent who hasn’t let their gaze drop from their kids for 20 seconds maybe 15 seconds to check a text or look behind them,” Chestley said.
“That’s all it took. It took 20 seconds for this to get out of control for the depth of the water and the speed of winds. So always be close, always be watching your kids, hug them everyday.”
Cynthia and Jason say they haven’t heard from the family since, but they hope they’re doing well.
“Nobody should be holding them accountable or responsible. Everybody has relaxed and looked away from their kids for a second, and we’re just glad they’re okay,” Jason said.
Water safety reminders
As summer edges closer and temperatures warm up, more and more Manitobans are heading to out to the beach and the lake. The Lifesaving Society of Manitoba says it’s important to keep water safety top of mind to ensure a round trip.
When it comes to floaties, the society says those are best suited for a pool.
‘The general advice we give to anyone who is using a floatation device or an inflatable object is you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times when using those types of devices,” Christopher Love, the Water Smart and safety management coordinator of Lifesaving Society Manitoba, said.
“They’re great for the backyard swimming pool or places like that.”
Love said they would advise not using those types of devices on lakes, as wind direction can change quickly, especially in the prairies. He says if you do choose to use one on a lake, you should be proactive with safety.
“Consider tying down or tying off the inflatable object, so you’ve got an anchor that’s going to hold it in place or it’s tied to a dock or something like that,” he said.
“Or, if you wanted to be more free-floating, then you need to equip it like you would an equivalently-sized boat. So you’re wearing your life jackets, you’ve got safety equipment on board.”