Man survives 2nd close call with death, but watches friend drown after capsizing

A Newfoundland and Labrador man badly burned in a tanker fire 10 years ago has dodged death once again after a boating mishap this weekend. But as with the accident a decade earlier, he also witnessed the death of a friend.

'I had no air. I couldn't breathe,' says Pat Stamp about being trapped under capsized boat

Pat Stamp cheats death for second time

7 years ago
Duration 2:44
Pat Stamp again cheats death, loses friend.

A Newfoundland and Labrador man badly burned in a tanker fire 10 years ago has dodged death once again after a boating mishap this weekend. But as with the accident a decade earlier, he also witnessed the death of a friend.

Pat Stamp's six-metre open boat was struck by a rogue wave and capsized in St. Mary's Bay off St. Vincent's, N.L., on Sunday.

Stamp, 60, and another man survived, but the capsizing took the life of their friend Eugene St. Croix, 65.

It was Stamp's second close call with death.

In 2006, he was welding on a tanker in Conception Bay South when an explosion left him with life-threatening injuries and killed a friend and co-worker, Wayne Dalton.

"I said to my wife this morning, I try to help people in so many different situations. Why is this happening to me?" Stamp said Monday.

'I had no air. I couldn't breathe'

The latest tragedy happened during a fishing trip. Stamp said he and his companions were heading back with their fish when the wave hit.

"My friend said, 'This wind is something strange, like there's going to be a storm or something,'" said Stamp.

"I said to the boys, 'Hold on to the ropes on the gunwale.' It was like we had one of those big surf waves. She [the boat] just curved with the wave and capsized in the ocean." 

Stamp said marine emergency training helped him figure out what to do.

"All hands, the three of us, were captured underneath the boat," said Stamp.

"I found the gunwales and I pulled myself out. It seemed like about five minutes to get to the top, but I know it wasn't that long. It might have been a minute or less. But I had no air, I couldn't breathe, and where a part of my nose is missing, there was a lot of water, and I breathed it out twice," he said.

"Finally, I popped up about a foot and a half out of the water when I came up. I looked for the boys. I swam to the end of the boat." 
Eugene St. Croix (left) and Pat Stamp were old friends and served together as volunteer firefighters. St. Croix drowned after the capsizing on Sunday. (Submitted by Pat Stamp)

Stamp said he was able to crawl up onto the overturned boat. "I held on to the leg of the motor for dear life."

"Three more big lops hit me, and I just held on and kept looking for the other two boys to float out, but there was nothing floating out from underneath the boat," said Stamp.

Survival and loss

Stamp said the strong tide carried the boat into an area known as the gut, where it got hung up on something on the bottom. At that point, he said, he got on top of the boat and walked back and forth looking for any sign of his friends.

"I got down and I tried to lift the boat, and I couldn't do anything. So, I got back up because the tide was so strong. And I knocked on the bottom of the boat, and I got no response. A few seconds later, I knocked again, and I got a response," said Stamp.

"It was like a load lifted off me. And the other two guys came out from under the boat. Both of them were connected together, and the tide took them into where someone cast out a line to catch them."

Stamp said he has known St. Croix and the other man, Seamus Fleming, all his life.

"Seamus is doing good. He's OK. He never took on any water. He told me he had about a foot-and-a-half of an air pocket that his head was in."

Flowers have been laid on the beach overlooking the sea, where the boat overturned during on Sunday, throwing three men into the water. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

But while Fleming survived, St. Croix did not.

"I was wearing a survival coat, a floater. And they were both wearing life-vests. They weren't allowed in the boat unless they put them on," said Stamp.

Stamp said St. Croix didn't like wearing it. "I said you got to put it on if you're coming with me."

Stamp said St. Croix's family is pretty upset.

"I'm doing OK. I'm emotional. I had a couple of periods of weak spots, especially when I was going to meet them."

He said he will cope with the help of some doctor friends.

"They will take care of me. I have strong family support."

Fighting back tears, he said that his oldest grandson is very upset. He had been out fishing before with Stamp and St. Croix.

"He doesn't want to see his poppy get hurt. He doesn't know what to do for poppy. He doesn't want to leave [my] side." 

At the time of the tanker explosion, Stamp said, he had three grandchildren. Now he has 11.

"I'm very close to them, and they are very close to me."


Glenn Payette


A veteran journalist with more than 30 years' experience, Glenn Payette is a videojournalist with CBC News in St. John's.