Heroic N.L. duo win rescuer award for saving a girl at the beach

Barbara Watson and Tim Hayes were at Broad Cove Beach last August when they heard a girl and her family screaming as the floatie she was on took her out to sea. Because of their heroic efforts, they've been honoured with the Red Cross Rescuer Award.

Rescuers say they want to meet saved girl and her family again someday

A rocky shoreline, blue sky, and blue water.
A little girl was blown away on an inflatable raft at Broad Cove Beach last August. Two bystanders have now received an award for rescuing her. (Submitted by Chris MacNaughton)

A Newfoundland duo has received an award for their heroic rescue of a child last summer.

Barbara Watson of Small Point-Adams Cove met up with friends Tim Hayes and his sister at the beach one day last August.

A few minutes after arriving, she heard screaming. 

"We went over to her, and she pointed out to a raft that was quite far away and said that it was her granddaughter on the raft," she recalled. 

"And later we found out that her granddaughter's name was Kenzie, and I think she was six years old. I could barely tell that it was a child on the raft. That's how far away she was."

The girl's father and grandfather were in the water, and at first, Watson thought she would swim out to help. But the raft was moving fast, and she knew wouldn't be able to catch up.

Instead, she and Hayes hopped on Hayes's ATV and drove down the beach. 

A rocky descent 

The wind was blowing Kenzie and her raft toward a rocky inlet by the mouth of the ocean. 

As they headed down the embankment, their shoes broke on the rocks along the way, Watson said. "And I later realized there were a lot of nettles because my legs were covered in them. That was my first introduction to nettles in Newfoundland."

At that point, she said, Kenzie had travelled over 300 metres from her family. 

A small orange boat can be seen moving through the water, and a larger fishing vessel is in the background.
Emergency response teams rushed to the beach after receiving calls. (Submitted by Chris MacNaughton)

"The wind was blowing her such that she was coming closer and closer to the rocks, so by the time we got to her, she was just at the edge of a little jut-out right before she reached the mouth of the ocean," she said.

"So Tim and I were able to rescue her from that jut-out."

When they got her, Kenzie was hysterical. Watson started the barefoot trek up the rocky embankment while Tim stayed to help the father and grandfather get back to shore safely. 

By then, more people had arrived to help. Community members, the Canadian Coast Guard, the ambulance, the fire department and the RCMP lined the beach.

"I think it was just all the community members who had formed a human chain coming down the embankment," she said. 

"So by the time I got back across the rocks, I passed Mackenzie up to the last person on this human chain and then they, in turn, passed Mackenzie up to the top where her mother was and her grandmother."

Watson said she doesn't remember being helped up the hill herself because of the adrenalin rush. 

"All I could think about was saving her life. Tim and I were 100 per cent focused on saving this girl's life. There was nothing else that we could think of." 

A familiar fear

Watson knows first-hand the fear of losing a child. She said her son Tyler was playing on her mind as she helped Kenzie. 

"Unfortunately, years ago I lost my son at Sick Kids in Toronto, so I was very familiar with the pain of losing a child."

"Obviously I did not want to see anything happen to anyone else's child and I think that was just really in the forefront of my mind, is I just don't want this little girl to die."

"I did talk to the grandma a little bit," Watson remembered. "And she also was just traumatized and she had told me that almost a year to the day earlier, she had lost her son by drowning."

An inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, with two adults and a child standing on the rocks. In the distance, two people can be seen in the water.
Barbara Watson and Tim Hayes rescued Kenzie from the water as she floated over 300 metres away from her family. (Submitted by Chris MacNaughton)

Chris MacNaughton, who owns a cabin close to the beach, saw it all happen — and nominated Watson and Hayes for the Canadian Red Cross Rescuer Award. 

The award "acknowledges the efforts of non-professional rescuers and off-duty first responders who go out of their way to save a life, prevent further injury and/or provide comfort to the injured."

Watson, who owned her own safety training company in Ontario, has started a fundraiser to help pay for safety equipment on the beach, such as buoys, rope, poles and signage, to remind people how dangerous the ocean can be. 

Since that day, Watson and Hayes have not been able to connect with Kenzie or her family. 

"All I know is someone told me the little girl's name was Kenzie and that's all I know of the family. I think maybe they come from St. John's," she said. 

"Unfortunately," she explained, "there just wasn't an opportunity at the time of the rescue because I think the parents were just so distraught and they ended up leaving the next day. So I never really had an opportunity to meet them."

The pair received the Red Cross Rescuer Award on Sunday. 

Watson said she and Hayes being on the beach that day was "very much meant to be."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Sarah Antle


Sarah Antle is a journalist working with CBC in the St. John's bureau.

With files from On The Go