West Vancouver woman celebrated as ‘hero’ after plunging into cold waters to save child

Click to play video: '‘Nothing short of a hero’: Woman praised for heroic efforts in challenging rescue at West Vancouver beach'
‘Nothing short of a hero’: Woman praised for heroic efforts in challenging rescue at West Vancouver beach
A West Vancouver mother jumps into cold and choppy waters to save a 15-year-old boy with autism, in distress off Dundarave beach. Catherine Urquhart has the story. – Sep 12, 2022

A West Vancouver mother is being hailed as a hero after diving into the cold waters off of Dundarave Beach to save a child who had gone too far.

Emilyn Golden said she was at the popular park last Friday with her children, two and five, when she heard “some screaming happening in the corner.”

“There was a mother in agony and they said there’s a boy out there, he’s not a strong swimmer, he’s autistic and he’s swimming out to sea,” Golden told Global News on Saturday.

“The waves were pretty big. I said, ‘I’m a strong enough swimmer, I can give it a go’.”

Golden said someone else was soaking wet on the beach, having already tried to rescue the 15-year-old. Nevertheless, she stripped down to her underwear and plunged into the water.

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It was hard to find him, Golden added, due to the size of the waves that were blocking her view.

When she reached him, she said his lips were blue. Aware he has autism, she said she kept her distance and spoke sensitively, but he was afraid of her and began to swim further out, towards Spanish Banks.

“I gave all my power and I went to go swim around in front of him so he would stop swimming out towards the middle of the ocean. He started kicking me and pushing me away,” Golden recalled.

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Golden said she retreated a little bit and tried a new tactic: “I just said, ‘Your mom’s on the beach, she’s got popsicles, they’re yellow’.”

She said she was able to coax the teen, whom police described as non-verbal, approach him and grab ahold of his t-shirt.

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“I was confident in my ability but I didn’t know what he was going to do. He kept putting his face in the water to rest,” she said.

“I was holding him up and just swimming with the one arm, and just talking to him trying to stay calm. I knew the currents were so strong and we were still 100 metres away from shore.”

By that time, first responders — including firefighters, police and the Canadian Coast Guard — had assembled at Dundarave Beach.

Const. Kevin Goodmurphy of the West Vancouver Police Department described it as a “frantic scene.” He said police were called to the beach around 9:30 a.m. by the boy’s distraught caregivers.

“I looked and there was this tiny little head bobbing about 300 feet from shore, and I thought, ‘We’ve got to get on this right now,'” he told Global News.

Goodmurphy said he saw Golden braving the waves to get to him.

“It’s my understanding that she was there with her two young children as well, that she left on shore, put her own life at risk to swim 300 feet from shore without a personal flotation device,” he said.

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“She’s nothing short of a hero and deserves all the recognition in the world because she absolutely saved this person’s life.”

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The West Vancouver mom was able to keep herself and the boy afloat until a Joint Rescue Coordination Centre crew arrived and pulled them both into an inflatable boat.

Goodmurphy said he had feared for her safety too as a drowning or desperate person can do “desperate things,” even when someone is trying to help them.

“I can tell you it was frightening for all of us on shore watching this and trying to coordinate efforts to get someone out to them,” said Goodmurphy. “She did an amazing thing.”

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Const. Nicole Braithwaite echoed Goodmurphy’s comments, describing Golden as “a hero.”

“While police don’t necessarily recommend that people do this — the water is very cold and it can be very dangerous — she was a very, very strong swimmer and she made the ultimate sacrifice to leave her kids on the beach and swim out to this individual and keep him calm,” said Braithwaite.

“West Vancouver police will be recommending that she is recognized for her heroic actions.”

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Police said the teen was taken to the hospital as a precaution, but ultimately no one was injured. When they returned to the beach, Golden said his mother “basically tackled” her on the dock, sobbing.

“She was just so upset, the caregivers were obviously so upset. Everyone was just distraught. I’m just glad it was a successful mission out there,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t “think twice” about doing it again.

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“It’s just a sense of duty, a sense of community, you go and you do your best.”

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