Nfld. & Labrador

Following harrowing Manuels River rescue, this mom urges caution

After her eight-year-old son was swept away by a strong current, Gina Kelly wants others to know how powerful the river can be.

Strong current swept away Franke Kelly, 8, as mother watched

Franke Kelly, 8, and mom Gina Kelly want people to know how dangerous the current at Manuels River can be. (Cecil Haire/CBC)

After watching a raging Manuels River sweep away her son in its current and a stranger's dramatic rescue, a mother from St. John's has a warning for others of how dangerous its waters can be.

Gina and Franke Kelly were enjoying a warm afternoon's walk along the river in Conception Bay South on June 5. It had been rainy the day before, and Gina Kelly said the waters were running high and strong.

But after seeing several sunbathers the two decided to stop and wade.

"When you got a little bit away from the shore, you could feel the current really strong under your feet, and the slippery rocks, but I didn't think it was that dangerous," Gina Kelly said.

Franke, 8, played a game with the current, letting it carry him for a bit until he stopped on a few rocks. After catching a chill, Gina Kelly stepped back onto shore, and as she stood and watched, the current surged and carried Franke past his stopping point.

'I couldn't really think about anything'

Gina Kelly reached out to grab him, and fell short.

"I started to go underwater, and I was trying to get out of the water, and I couldn't really breathe," Franke said.

"As soon as he got out of my reach, he was fast. He went 10 feet in about two seconds," said Gina.

Franke was swept down the river and plucked from the water just past the bridge. (Cecil Haire/CBC)

Gina Kelly began to run alongside the river as Franke was swept further downstream.

"He was floating away from me, and his head was going back and forth under the water," she said.

"I was scared. I couldn't really think about anything," said Franke.

As Franke was pulled under a bridge, Gina saw a stranger jump into the water and catch her son. Another man came to help and she got into the water as well. 

A warning

Everyone made it back to shore, with minor scrapes and bruises.

But the rescue has shaken the Kellys, who want others to understand how quickly something can go wrong, even in what was shallow water.

"I wasn't on my phone. I was standing right there next to him, and he was just out of my reach," she said.

Neither Kelly is a poor swimmer. Gina Kelly has swum the tickle between Portugal Cove-St. Philip's and Bell Island, and as she trains for triathlons Franke often swims beside her. But that didn't matter on that June afternoon.

"I felt foolish that I didn't realize that the water could be that strong," said Gina.

The water levels on Manuels River were much higher and swifter than seen here, when Franke was swept away two weeks ago. (Cecil Haire/CBC)

The water levels on Manuel River have since returned to a more tranquil normal, but the Kellys are speaking out in the hopes no one else underestimates it, or any body of water running at high levels.

"I just would've felt really bad if the same thing happened to someone else, and I hadn't reported it or told anyone, because you really need to be careful," said Gina Kelly.

A 25-year-old drowned last week at a popular swimming hole in Flatrock, where at least three other people have drowned.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

now