Survivor of N.L. snowmobile accident tried to pull uncle from icy waters, but had to turn away
'I told him I loved him and I'm going to miss him. He said it back to me. We both cried.'
Blake Williams's words come slowly and steadily as he tells the story of his snowmobile going through the ice on Mobile Big Pond, south of St. John's, on Wednesday.
It's when he describes leaving his uncle, Maurice Jordan, behind in the water that his voice breaks.
"He was losing energy, he could barely keep himself up, I couldn't lift him up, so I told him that I loved him and that I'm going to miss him … and had to leave him," the 24-year-old said.
Williams survived the ordeal and is now recovering in hospital in St. John's.
Jordan's body was found the following day.
'Disappeared in a manner of seconds'
The way Williams's and Jordan's family tell it, the men set out for the day on Big Mobile Pond, 50 kilometres south of St. John's, on two vehicles: one on an ATV and one on the snowmobile. The ATV got stuck, so they were both on the snow machine for the trip home.
Running low on fuel, they decided to cut across the pond rather than go around it, to save time and fuel.
"We didn't want to go out on the pond," he said, but snow was coming. So they started across the ice.
"I thought we were hitting slush and everything started breaking away. The next thing you know, we're in the water," he said.
"I looked back and the machine disappeared in a matter of seconds."
'Break ice, break ice'
Williams said he was able to haul himself out of the water and onto the ice, but that it just wouldn't hold.
"[I] just kept breaking the ice," he said. "It just didn't seem like it was going to end."
"Came to a point that I couldn't even lift my arms, couldn't feel nothing. I just put my belly up against the ice and just rolled over and hoped that the ice would keep me. A lot of times it broke."
Then it held.
He rolled onto the surface and took off all of his gear. Then he returned to his uncle, still in the water, and wrapped the straps of his snow pants around Jordan's arm to pull him out of the water.
But any time he made headway with his uncle the ice would give out.
"Break ice, break ice," said Williams. "The two of us just losing energy. My hands were just so cold."
Williams fell back in the water himself, and managed to get back out again.
'Praying that my dad would help us'
Williams's father, Ambrose, died five years ago, also on the water, in a kayaking accident.
It was Jordan who had taken his brother out to the water that day and when he came back to get him, all he could see in his binoculars was an overturned kayak and open water.
His body was never found.
As Blake Williams tried to haul Jordan out of the pond, they called out to Williams's father.
"Praying that my dad would help us, praying that God would help us," said Williams.
After nearly two hours, his uncle began telling him to go, to find help.
"I told him I loved him and I'm going to miss him. He said it back to me. We both cried," said Williams.
"I didn't want to leave him. It killed me to leave."
Finding a cabin
Wearing nothing but his pajamas and a sweater, nothing on his feet, Williams said he got across the pond and up onto the shore and then walked about two kilometres through the snow.
"It felt like my dad was pushing my back. I didn't think I was going ot make it."
Finally, he found a cabin.
"I tried to break out the window with everything I had, but it took me 10 times, I couldn't break it out," he said. "So I picked up a set of moose antlers, started swinging my body until the window broke."
Inside, he had just managed to light a fire with an old lighter and a butane torch — "I flicked it probably 10 times before I got the propane to burn," he said — when a snowmobile pulled up outside.
It was the owner of the cabin.
"I started singing out for help, some guy came in," he said. "I sent him out for help and stayed by the fire wrapped up in blankets, and prayed and prayed, hoped for the best."
"Hoped that [Jordan] was going to be there holding onto the ice, but it never went the way we wanted it to go."
'Pretty close to losing both of them'
Jordan's siblings believe Jordan knew he wasn't going to make it and that when he was telling Williams to go get help, he was really telling Williams to save himself.
"I think Maurice knew at the moment that if Blake didn't leave when he left, they both would be gone," said Cecilia Jordan-Clowe, Jordan's sister.
"I think we were pretty close to losing both of them."
In losing Maurice Jordan, Cecilia Jordan-Clowe and her two remaining brothers have now lost two siblings in the past five years. They are devastated, they say, but it's Williams they are most worried about.
"He got to not only lose his father back in 2013, but his uncle — he got to pretty much watch it happen," said Jordan-Clowe.
"I think physically he'll hopefully be OK, but mentally he's going to be a long time dealing with this tragedy."
With files from Fred Hutton