Quebec canoeist recalls harrowing near-drowning and heroism of missing friend
'He's my best friend, and he saved my life,' Catherine Desautels says
Catherine Desautels and her best friend Rémy Nolet set out by canoe on the Chambly Basin last night eager to grab some pizza before paddling back.
It's a trip the childhood friends had made countless times. But on this night, as they headed home, the wind picked up. The waves turned from exhilarating to menacing.
Before they knew it, they were tossed out of the canoe into frigid water.
"I just had time to grab one life-jacket. We were both holding on to it. He said to me, 'Cat, put the belt on. Do it.' I put it on,'" Desautels, 17, said, struggling to hold back tears.
"The waves were horrible," she said. "Both of us were scared, scared, scared, scared. Eventually, the waves separated us, and I screamed, 'I'm going to get help, Rémy! Hold on! I'm going to get help!'"
Fighting the waves
Desautels can't explain why they weren't both wearing life-jackets. It was an unlucky turn because they usually did.
I just kept yelling that everything is OK, that I loved him and that I was going to get help.- Catherine Desautels
The young woman said she was able to fight the current buoyed by the vest, but Nolet slipped further away.
"He tried to fight the water, but I couldn't get to him," she said.
"There were too many waves. There were too many waves between us. I just kept yelling that everything is OK, that I loved him and that I was going to get help."
Desautels focused her sights on a church and tried frantically to get to shore. She was having trouble breathing, she was cold, and she could barely feel her legs. She had been in the water for more than two hours.
Then it started to rain.
Eventually, she spotted a white house and figures moving on the shore.
"I screamed like I've never screamed before," she said. "I woke up next to a fire."
She was taken to hospital and treated for shock and hypothermia.
Chambly firefighters searched the water for Nolet until 1:30 a.m. and resumed their search this morning.
Desautels returned to the river bank this morning to help with the search, retracing her path from the shore.
Visibly shaken, she recounted how her friend, whom she'd grown up with and lived next door to her entire life, sacrificed his life for hers.
"He's my best friend, and he saved my life," she said. "Without him, I wouldn't be here."