Alberta firefighter Andrew Pearson says a day at the beach would have ended in tragedy — for himself and a family in Mexico — had it not been for the help of two Good Samaritans who are also Canadian.
The St. Albert man, who rescued a father and son from drowning off the coast of Mexico last Saturday, says two strangers not only helped him save the family, but also prevented him from being swept away in a powerful riptide.
"They deserve a huge amount of recognition. I do this for a living. I've been trained to do it. I've accepted this as my job and my career. But they had never done anything like this before," said Pearson, a military reservist who once worked as a rafting guide.
"But without any hesitation or question, they were right there, and they had no qualms about helping out.
"That's the story that needs to be told: A bunch of random Canadians found each other on the beach and rescued a family of Mexican locals."
A chance meeting
Pearson, on a family vacation in Mismaloya, a small coastal village near Puerto Vallarta, was sitting with his sister, his 10-year-old niece and three-year-old daughter, building sandcastles on the beach, when he had a chance meeting with fellow Canadians Liz Armstrong and her son, Bob Haley, from Carrot River, Sask.
'That's the story that needs to be told: A bunch of random Canadians found each other on the beach and rescued a family of Mexican locals.' - Andrew Pearson
"We got to chatting just about random Canadian things for about five minutes and then, all of a sudden, I looked up and there was a young boy in the water, maybe six years old, and he was in visible distress," Pearson said.
The child was caught in a powerful riptide and was struggling to keep his head above water.
"I started running as fast as I could, because I know from experience that someone in that condition literally has seconds," said Pearson, who swam against powerful currents to reach the boy and started dragging him back toward the shore.
"At that point, I looked around and I noticed there was a gentlemen in the rip as well," Pearson said.
"He was showing massive signs of distress and was in the process of drowning himself. It turns out, it was the father of the little boy."
Strangers save the day
With a second swimmer now in distress, Pearson felt a flicker of panic, until he saw Armstrong, who swam out into the surf and plucked the boy from his arms. As the child was reaching safety, both of the boy's parents remained overwhelmed by the waves.
Pearson swam back into the centre of the riptide.
"The father was there alongside the mother, and she was a weak swimmer, but was able to hold up the father just enough to keep his head above water, and once I got there, they both grabbed onto me, and started pushing me under.
"I started to drag the husband, who was almost at the point of unconsciousness. I was able to get out of the rip and start swimming him back, but I was so exhausted I was on the verge of collapse."
Pearson told the mother to return to the shore, and she did.
It was then that Haley came into the surf and dragged both men out of the water.
"Bob and Liz helped me and prevented me from becoming another victim. When I made it to the surf, I was either going to drop the father back into the surf or I was going to go down myself," said Pearson.
"I never like to play the 'what if' game as a firefighter, but in hindsight, it was really lucky."
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