Rowing team pulls woman to safety in dramatic Humber Arm rescue

The team out for a morning practice came across an exhausted woman in the water, with no lifejacket, and helped bring her to safety.

Woman was in the water fully dressed with no life-jacket

The Barry Rowing Team out on the water in Brake's Cove, their normal early morning practice spot. (Submitted by Meg Bee)

A Corner Brook-based rowing team went from having a normal practice Thursday morning to staging a dramatic rescue after coming across a woman, fully clothed and with no life-jacket, in the cold waters of the Humber Arm.

The Barry Group rowing team left the dock at Brakes Cove around 6:30 a.m., but instead of taking a usual practice route they decided to row over toward Wild Cove, near the mouth of the Humber River.

"I guess there was just something in the cards yesterday," team member Sara Squires told CBC Radio's The Corner Brook Morning Show

"We don't normally go in that direction for our practice, it's usually up the river or a little bit more out in the bay," she said in an interview Friday. 

Not long into the practice, Squires said, a few rowers thought they saw something in the water — a loon, or an oddly-shaped wave — but dismissed it.

"Not long after, we did hear a voice, say something along the lines of 'excuse me sir, I think I made a mistake,' so then we realized that maybe we did see something in the water," she said.

"Sure enough, there was a person, somewhat floating, swimming in the middle of Wild Cove."

The team, from left to right: Katie Alteen, Steph Harnum, Meaghan Brown, Sara Squires, Amy Barry, Jess Johnson and Sarah Rowe. Not pictured is their coxswain, Jeff Griffin. (Submitted by Sara Squires)

'Exhausted' woman in the water

Coming closer, the team saw the woman was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and pants, with no life-jacket.

"We noticed that she'd been in the water for some time. She seemed a bit exhausted, I wouldn't say delusional, but you could tell there was maybe some onset of hypothermia happening," said Squires.

Chance paid off when the team took a different practice route than normal Thursday morning. (Submitted by Sara Squires)

"We tossed her a life-jacket and she grabbed on to it and swam on over to the boat."

The rowers asked a few short questions, but Squires said the woman's thick accent, possibly French, kept conversation short. And while the woman was clearly tired, the team's skinny racing shell couldn't support bringing her aboard, so a compromise was made.

"In no time, we had her hanging on to the front of the boat and we were on our way back to the dock in Brakes Cove," Squires said.

"She did struggle at times. She was trying to put more of her body on the boat, her arms had been getting tired at that time."

'A lot of unknowns'

Squires said the team turned their minds to getting the woman back to Brakes Cove as quickly and smoothly as possible.

"We didn't really have anything else going on in our minds but the fact that we needed to get this lady on dry land and she needs medical attention right away."

When they arrived, one rower called 911 as others wrapped the woman in blankets, and gave her snacks and water until first responders arrived to take over.

After the rescue, a lot of questions still linger.

"We really have a lot of unknowns," said Squires.

"We're not really sure where she came from, or how she ended up in the ocean at seven o'clock in the morning."

The team may never know those answers, but Squires said one thing is clear.

"It was definitely quite the situation, a situation I don't think any of us ever thought we would be in. But I have to say I'm extremely proud of everyone on the team for how they handled the situation."

With files from the Corner Brook Morning Show