Edmonton

'Humbling beyond words': Officers recognized for pulling boys from freezing Alberta lake

Sam Pidwerbeski threw a rope to the struggling boy and dragged him through frigid six-foot waves to the side of the wind-battered rescue boat.

'We don't do what we do because we want recognition'

During a storm in September, two Alberta Fish and Wildife officers pulled two boys from Lac La Biche, shown above in calmer weather. Only one survived.

Sam Pidwerbeski threw a rope to the struggling boy and dragged him through frigid six-foot waves to the side of the wind-battered rescue boat.

The child was shivering, hypothermic and unable to provide any clues to the whereabouts of a second boy, still missing on Lac La Biche.

Within minutes, Pidwerbeski and his partner Tyler Mann would spot the blue and yellow life jacket of the second boy and pull his lifeless body from the water.

The eight-year-old child could not be revived.

"It was difficult after," Pidwerbeski said of the rescue on Sept. 1. "There was a lot going through our minds."

'Humbling beyond words'

Pidwerbeski and Tyler Mann, both Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers in Lac La Biche, were among more than 30 Albertans honoured for their bravery in a ceremony Tuesday at Edmonton police headquarters.

Both men were awarded the bronze medal of bravery by the Royal Canadian Humane Association.

"It's humbling beyond words," Pidwerbeski said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active. "We don't do what we do because we want recognition. That's not why we get into this line of work. It's our job."

The boys had been out paddling in the Poplar Point area, a popular lakeside area on the eastern edge of Lac La Biche, when they were swept away by a powerful storm.

As the winds picked up, family members back on shore lost sight of the canoe and called police.

'No hesitation' 

Both boys were wearing life jackets, but the water was freezing and as the minutes passed weather conditions were getting more dangerous.

When Pidwerbeski and Mann arrived on shore to assist in the search, the water was churning.

"It was probably the roughest that I've ever seen it in my four years being in the district, but we knew that we had a job to do, so we loaded up the boat and made our way across the lake," Pidwerbeski said.

"We kind of exchanged a look; we knew it wasn't good, but this was a situation that certainly required our attendance and there was no hesitation."

The men set out in their boat and headed to the middle of the lake where the conditions were most severe and began scanning the water.

When they finally spotted the 13-year-old boy, he was waving and crying out for help.

Pidwerbeski tossed a throw bag to the freezing boy, calling for him to grab the rope. Once inside the safety of the boat, the boy was unable to speak. They decided to rush him back to shore.

'He was going hypothermic'

"He couldn't really tell us a whole lot and it was clear that he was going hypothermic," Pidwerbeski said.

"As soon as we got to shore we turned him over to medical care and then went right back out to try and locate the second individual." 

I hope that they receive as much support and assistance as we have these last couple weeks.- Sam Pidwerbeski

Back out on the water, Mann spotted the second boy. He drove the boat toward the child, but a strong wave pushed the boy further away.

Mann put the boat in neutral and reached out as far as he could to grasp the boy's life jacket, while Pidwerbeski held on to prevent his partner from falling overboard.

Even though the boat was being tossed in the waves, Mann immediately began CPR. They rushed the child back to shore, but he could could not be revived.

Pidwerbeski feels lucky to have been able to assist in the rescue and for all the support he's received from his friends, family and fellow officers.  

He said he thinks often of the family of the little boy who didn't survive. 

"I hope that they receive as much support and assistance as we have these last couple weeks."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

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