Hamilton

'I'm not going to let go': 10-year-old saves friend from drowning in icy Hamilton Harbour

A 10-year-old boy believes a guardian angel gave him the strength to keep his best friend's head above the surface after he fell into the frigid water of Hamilton Harbour.

Alex Neto says a guardian angel gave him the strength to hold onto his best friend

Police are praising Alex Neto, left, for saving his friend Lucas Snelling from drowning after he fell into the frigid water of Lake Ontario Thursday night. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

A 10-year-old boy believes a guardian angel gave him the strength to keep his best friend's head above the surface after he fell into the frigid water of Hamilton Harbour.

The two Grade 5 students were alone when one tumbled into the icy water Thursday night. But Alex Neto, who police are praising for saving his friend from drowning, says he felt the presence of a third friend who passed away years ago, helping him hold on.

After school Thursday Alex and his buddy Lucas Snelling headed down by Macassa Bay to check out a fort hidden in some trees near the shoreline. Following some exploring, Snelling decided to sit on the dock and dangle his feet over the icy water below.

But when he tried to stand up he slipped, falling into the bay.

"I didn't mean to slip in," explained Lucas. "The water was so cold it was just getting to me. I was trying to break the ice so I could get to the shallow end and pull myself up."

Alex Neto says he wasn't going to let go of his friend, no matter what happened. 0:33

Alex saw his friend fall and sprinted to save him.

"He's way heavier than me so I tried to pick him up, but I can't," he said. Not knowing what else to do, he grabbed hold of Lucas with one hand and a fence behind him and began dragging him toward shore.

"It was really hard to carry him for that long, but I said I'm not going to let go because he's my friend and I don't want him to drown."

'I was really scared until Alex started holding me'

Lucas said the water shocked him, but he tried to break the ice and stay above the water.

"I was really scared until Alex started holding me," he said. "I felt a little bit better because the coldness was still really, really cold."

The two young boys struggled together, when suddenly they spotted help.

"It was like a miracle, the cops came," said Lucas.

Members of the police ACTION team were patrolling nearby when they noticed someone in the water around 6:30 p.m.

Police say Lucas was almost totally submerged when they arrived and described their presence at that moment as a "stroke of luck" that very well may have been the difference between life and death.

"Definitely right place, right time, and all the circumstances came together so this was a good story around Christmas rather than a tragic one," said Const. Ben Rushton, a member of the marine unit.

Hamilton police are warning residents to stay away from the water, even if it appears to be covered in ice. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The water in the lake is 4-5 C this time of year. That's cold enough to leave someone gasping for air and losing motor skills in a matter of minutes.

"It's fortunate for him that his friend was there," said Rushton.

Police are crediting Alex for his quick actions, but the 10-year-old said he thinks someone else was there with him, giving him the strength he needed.

Lucas and Alex were both friends with a boy named Nicolas Machado who died two years ago.

"We think [he's] our guardian angel," said Alex. "I think we got power to break the ice to get through. He helped me carry him."

A plaque bearing Machado's photo and name hangs in the hallway at St. Lawrence Catholic Elementary School, where the boys met.

A plaque with a photo of Nicolas Machado and a poem about angels hangs in the hallway at St. Lawrence Catholic Elementary School. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

It reads in part:

"A guardian Angel

Who will guide what you do,

His pure essence is love,

Sent to watch over you."

'He feels like a really good brother to me'

After he was pulled from the water, Lucas says police wrapped him in a blanket and took him to a station to warm up.

Paramedics looked him over, but said he was alright.

"My mom was really terrified," Lucas said, adding he won't be going down to the water again until the summer.

The two friends say they weren't sure what to expect when they were reunited at school Friday morning.

"I'm very happy to see him, because I thought he was just going to be wrapped in a blanket, sick. But right when we came to school I gave him a hug and I was so happy he was here," said Alex.

"I felt so amazing," added Lucas. "He was my best friend. Now he feels like a really good brother to me."

As the two boys spoke to reporters Alex threw an arm over the shoulder of his best friend and smiled.

"I could do this forever," he said, still holding on.

Hamilton Police ice safety tips. (Hamilton Police Service)

Following the rescue, Hamilton police provided the following ice safety tips:

  • Even though some bodies of water have started to freeze over, it's too early to risk recreational activities on ice.
  • Ice in most areas is currently too thin to support someone and fluctuating temperatures mean ice is unpredictable so police advise residents, especially children and pets, to stay away from frozen water.
  • Grey ice indicates water may be present.
  • If you see someone fall through the ice don't rush after them. Call 911, then try to reach them using long objects like a branch or rope.

About the Author

Dan Taekema is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: daniel.taekema@cbc.ca

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