Standing in knee-deep water one minute, sucked out to sea the next

Krista Grosskleg says large waves knocked her off her feet at Inverness Beach last month.

'We found ourselves knocked off our feet,' says woman who survived near drowning at Inverness Beach

View of Inverness Beach. (Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith/CBC)

Krista Grosskleg was visiting Cape Breton Island last month when she found herself in a dangerous situation in the ocean.

Grosskleg, her husband and their two daughters were at Inverness Beach on July 22. She and one of her daughters were in knee-deep water, jumping through the waves when they suddenly became quite powerful. The two were pulled from the shore.

"We found ourselves knocked off our feet. We were suddenly in over our heads," Grosskleg said. "We were having trouble swimming back to shore. We were struggling. The waves were crashing over our head."

Strong waters

At that point Grosskleg called out to her husband, a trained firefighter and water rescue technician, for help. As he swam out to her, Grosskleg says she did everything she could to keep her nine-year-old daughter's head above the water.

"She's a good swimmer but it was very strong," said Grosskleg.

Her husband managed to get her daughter, but Grosskleg said she was pulled out further from the shore. She said her husband called out again for help.

Helpful bystander

A bystander with a floating board appeared and he threw it out to Grosskleg's daughter. The nine-year-old managed to use the board to kick to shore with her father. A lifeguard also showed up to help with the rescue.

Grosskleg said the bystander, whom she later learned was Chris Lawless of North Sydney, then swam out to rescue her with a lifeguard.

"He managed to get to me, I don't know how. All I remember is being high up on this wave on my back thinking the worst and then … I feel these arms hook on to me," said Grosskleg.

"He actually swam out to me and dragged me in and I think it was another lifeguard who was helping him."

The Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service said the family got caught in a current about 250 to 300 metres outside of the supervised area.

Grosskleg said the family didn't realize they were outside of the supervised area.

"We're not risky people. We're not going to take our daughter out somewhere I think is dangerous," she said.

2 days in ICU

The service said one of the rescuers also received medical attention after swallowing water.

The same day Grosskleg and her daughter were rescued at Inverness Beach, a 59-year-old man at Port Hood Beach died in a suspected drowning after being overpowered by waves.

After she was rescued, Grosskleg was taken to hospital where she received "excellent care." She had swallowed a lot of water and was in intensive care for two days to deal with pneumonia and cardiac distress.

Gratitude and a warning

Grosskleg, now back home in Pembroke, Ont., said she still needs more heart testing over the next few weeks to make sure she hasn't suffered any long-term damage.

She decided to share her story to warn others how trouble can happen at the beach, even in shallow waters, and to express her gratitude to Chris Lawless, the bystander who helped save her.

Without him, Grosskleg said "it would not have ended well" for her.

"I honestly don't think I would have been able to be saved this day if he hadn't been there," said Grosskleg.