Near drowning on Lake Winnipeg prompts calls for rescue equipment at beaches
Published Thursday, June 14, 2018 3:38PM CST
Last Updated Thursday, June 14, 2018 5:32PM CST
When beachgoers spotted two women in distress on Lake Winnipeg Sunday afternoon, they looked for rescue equipment at Patricia Beach to help save them but couldn’t find anything.
Fortunately, the women were brought back to shore safely, but rescuers feel the equipment could make a difference in case of future emergencies.
Caitlan Okrainec and her cousin Kirstie Stefanowich, who’s nine-months pregnant, were floating on an air mattress when the mattress drifted away from shore in a matter of minutes, flipped and left them stranded in deep water.
“It feels so surreal to be at home. What if we both didn’t make it here,” said Stefanowich, referring to herself and her unborn son. “It was pretty wild.”
“It’s a miracle those people responded the way they did.”
Friends Adrienne Leitch and Garrett LeBlanc started swimming to the two women, Leitch to Stefanowich and LeBlanc to Okrainec while kayaker Rob Brogan paddled out to Okrainec as she was further out. He said she was struggling in the water when he got to her.
“We talked about it. It was probably pretty close for her,” said Brogan. “She’d inhaled some water. I have no idea how long she could’ve survived after that.”
“Maybe she could’ve got back on her own. Who knows.”
There were others involved in the rescue as well.
Leitch’s husband Brad heard the calls for help and ran to the canteen at Patricia Beach to ask the owner Sandy Roman to call 911. Brad said he also tried rounding up other beachgoers to assist with the rescue.
Manitoba beaches aren’t staffed by lifeguards but some have beach safety officers.
Swimming is unsupervised at Patricia Beach and there’s no water rescue equipment to be found.
The rescuers said first responders arrived on scene after they pulled the women from the water.
“We did not have any piece of professional rescue equipment that I'm aware of,” said Brad Leitch. “I had trouble mobilizing other people outside our group to join in at first and was trying to round up anything else we could find.”
He said he’d like to see rescue equipment put out at the beach so that people would have something to use in case of an emergency.
Fortunately, Brogan had the kayak and was able to help both Okrainec and LeBlanc back to shore.
Adrienne Leitch and another woman helping Stefanowich had obtained an inflatable ring from another beachgoer to help the three of them get back to the beach.
Brogan said rescue equipment would’ve come in handy.
“I think that would’ve made all the difference to have some kind of rescue station with basic lifesaving equipment,” said Brogan. “We have AEDs in malls and fire extinguishers in apartments.”
“I think having that gear available would’ve either let other people respond, more likely to respond, because they have the gear to do it and they could keep themselves safe before trying to save somebody else.”
Manitoba Sustainable Development said emergency equipment is not available at non-staffed beaches due to vandalism concerns because the department cannot guarantee the equipment would be in working order if it needed to be used.
Following a provincial review the government decided last summer to stick to staffing waterfronts with beach safety officers at Grand Beach, Winnipeg Beach and Birds Hill Provincial Park.
Beach safety officers aren’t lifeguards and they don’t supervise swimming areas. They provide public education, do foot and kayak patrols, search for missing people, inspect beaches for hazards, administer first aid and provide water rescues.