What started out as an evening of tubing and fun on the Niagara River ended with a scare for the Randall family.
Sheldon Randall, interim CAO of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and his wife Sandra, were taking their daughter Ava and her friend Zoe out for a boat ride to enjoy some summer fun Saturday, when they came across a woman in distress floating in the water.
The woman, a U.S. resident in her early 20s, had been out jet skiing with her boyfriend on July 4, when the watercraft barrel-rolled and they both fell off.
The boyfriend, who later said it was his first time on a jet ski, couldn’t get the emergency cord back in the craft, and had instructed her to swim to the shore.
But the woman, not a strong swimmer, was still more than a kilometre from shore and another half a kilometre from the jet ski, being pulled by the river current, when the Randalls spotting her waving.
“My dad started slowing down and I thought he was gonna show us a bird or something like that in the water,” Ava said in an interview Monday.
“But then we saw arms and we're like, 'Oh, wow, that's not a bird.’”
“We heard my mom and my dad was asking someone all these questions like, 'Are you OK? Are you with someone? Are you injured? Is everything all right?' And the girl was crying and she was really scared.”
The woman was trying to swim back to the Youngstown marina.
“But that would have taken her all night,” Ava said. “So my dad put her into the boat. We're just telling her, ‘It's OK. You're safe now,’ 'cause she was bawling her eyes out. She was really scared.”
It was about 6:30 p.m. when it happened, Sheldon said, and the woman said she had been swimming for 45 minutes to an hour.
“If someone didn't see her in the next hour or two, she would have been out there all night. She would have had hypothermia, for sure. It probably would have killed her. And the guy in the jet ski had no cellphone, no way of contacting the shore.”
She was wearing a lifejacket, but it was black.
“She had a lifejacket on, which we're really thankful she did because she said she would have drowned if she didn't. She wasn't a very good swimmer. But we wanted to let everyone know that she was wearing a black life jacket. And that would be really hard to see if it were to get dark.”
After making sure the woman was safe, they went to the jet ski, where her boyfriend was.
“We pulled up and we threw a rope to him and tied it up,” Ava said. “And the boyfriend was explaining that was his first time on a jet ski and it was one of his buddies' and he didn't know how to use it. And so my dad hopped on the jet ski to try to get the safety cord back in.”
She said on the boat they could smell alcohol on the couple's breath and suspect it could have played a part in the incident.
“And the boyfriend was like holding her and I think that the boyfriend felt guilty that he let her swim that far herself,” Zoe said.
“I don't think people appreciate the power of the water force coming out of the Niagara River, that you're not swimming against it at all because the current is so strong and it goes a long way and trying to swim across the river at the mouth, to get back to shore, you can't do it,” Sheldon said.
Shortly after they rescued the couple, the friend who owned the jet ski showed up and towed it back.
The Randalls took the couple to the boat club in Youngstown, after the border patrol stopped them to ask a lot of questions and said they could bring her to the dock.
Sheldon said the experience helped to teach Ava and Zoe how important water safety is.
He said their first mistake was leaving the watercraft, Sheldon said.
“Always make sure you have a lifejacket on because without the lifejacket she would probably not have made it,” Ava said.
“And make sure you don't drive or use machinery while intoxicated,” Zoe added.
“They both didn't know how to put a safety cord in, which is one of the most important parts. It's just something you should know and you should have these little kits called an orange bucket. It's got a flashlight, a rope, a whistle, all kinds of things that could have helped them in that situation. Or at least a paddle or something. There's one that folds up — especially on a jet ski.”
And if possible, wear a bright-coloured lifejacket that can be seen with light at night.
Ava said she was proud of her dad and surprised at how fast he acted.
“It’s just part of the boating procedure,” Sheldon said.