Nova Scotia

Grandfather, grandson saved from frigid waters by 'hero' in a rowboat

A man who rescued a grandfather and grandson from a tipped canoe in Nova Scotia's South Shore this week is being hailed a hero by the family he saved.

'The man was flying through the water. I haven't seen a boat move that quick,' says rescued canoeist

Jakob Almero and his grandfather, Luke Geerligs, were rescued by a quick-thinking man in a rowboat after their canoe capsized in Lake George near Shelburne, N.S., on Monday. (Submitted by Jakob Almero)

A man who rescued a grandfather and grandson from a tipped canoe on Nova Scotia's South Shore this week is being hailed as a hero.

Vincent DeMings wasted no time jumping into action when a neighbour called and told him she'd seen two men capsize in Lake George near Shelburne. But he insists he just did what anyone else would.

"When you see something like that, you just react," said DeMings. "All I had in my mind was: 'Try to save these people here in the water.'"

Jakob Almero, 20, and his grandfather, 74-year-old Luke Geerligs, decided to take advantage of the warm weather on Monday and go bass fishing.

Almero, who lives next door to his grandparents in Clyde River, said the 3½-metre canoe meant they could practice physical distancing while still getting out on the water.

But a sudden gust of wind sent a huge wave their way, tipping the canoe and sending the two men into the frigid lake.

It was just by a stroke of luck that Jane Hood, who lives nearby, saw what happened. DeMings said Hood and her husband called him, knowing that he had a boat. Then they called 911.

DeMings's boat didn't have a motor on it, so he formulated a plan: get it into the water, "get the oars going and don't stop until I've reached the people."

'I start to realize that I'm not going to make it'

While all this was happening on land, the grandfather and grandson, who were both wearing life-jackets, were still struggling in the middle of the lake.

Geerligs said his first impulse was to try and gather everything that was floating around them — oars, fishing gear and a sealed bag with his lunch.

"Until I start to realize, why am I holding on to this stuff?" Geerligs said in an interview Tuesday, chuckling.

His grandson, meanwhile, was trying to pull the canoe and his grandfather back to shore. 

Geerligs had recently had open heart surgery and a pacemaker put in. Almero said he wanted to make sure his grandfather wasn't overexerting himself.

But Geerligs said it didn't make sense for his grandson to try and pull both him and the boat, so he began swimming to shore.

"By this time the wind had really picked up and we were almost swimming against it," he said. "I start to realize that I'm not going to make it."

Fighting the cold

It was then that Geerligs heard "some hollering" and spotted a man rowing a skiff toward them.

"The man was flying through the water. I haven't seen a boat move that quick, just a little rowboat. It was crazy," Almero said.

Almero managed to get into the boat. Then he and DeMings tried to pull Geerligs up. But the 74-year-old was worried about his recent surgery and being pulled up by his arms.

Instead, he decided to hold on to the stern of the boat.

"I said, 'You start rowing.' So this man with the clarity of mind realized my grandson was really going through a bad time, not so much physically but mentally," Geerligs said. "So he gets my grandson to get ahold of my hands and to start talking to me."

Almero said he was trying to fight the cold while keeping his grandfather talking. None of the men were quite sure just how long the two had been in the water, but they guess anywhere from half an hour to 45 minutes.

"By the time that I got close to the shore, all I wanted to do was go to sleep," Geerligs said.

'He's a hero in our eyes'

Geerligs remembers his feet hitting the bottom of the lake and people rushing into the water to help him out.

"I don't really remember a whole lot more after that," he said.

DeMings's wife was waiting on shore with dry clothes and blankets. RCMP officers had arrived and paramedics took Geerligs temperature and tried to get an IV into him, but he was shaking so badly they couldn't insert it.

"All in all, I just prayed to God that we were safe and OK," Almero said.

RCMP phoned Geerligs wife, Karen, who immediately began to worry about hypothermia and complications from his surgery.

"I thought, 'Oh no, not again.' I wouldn't want him to go through all of that and have this kill him. I was terrified," she said.

Geerligs was taken to Roseway Hospital in Shelburne, where he stayed overnight. He was released on Tuesday morning and he and his wife went to visit DeMings, bringing him a card and a few gifts.

"I just kept saying, 'Thank you, thank you.' He's just a regular South Shore guy, just humble with a massive heart," Karen Geerligs said. "He's a hero in our eyes."

She also said she was happy that she insisted her husband and grandson wear life-jackets, adding that it could have been a very different scenario had they not done so.

'By the grace of God'

Almero said he was in such a rush to get to the hospital on Monday, he didn't get a chance to thank DeMings.

"If you are hearing this, I'm speechless at your heroism. You're just amazing, thanks so much," he said.

After the paramedics and Almero had left, DeMings even went back in the water to retrieve the canoe. But he shies away from being called a hero.

"I'm just a man that would do anything that somebody else would have done. When you witness something like that and it's right in your eyes, you're going to go," he said Wednesday. "It's by the grace of God that it all worked out right."

Geerligs said the whole thing feels surreal, but he's thankful for what DeMings did for him and his grandson.

"With all the bad news that's going on, it's good to be part of a good news [story]," he said. "People kept saying, 'Oh someone is watching over you.' And my answer is, 'Always.'"

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emma Davie

Reporter

Emma Davie is a reporter, producer and videojournalist in Halifax. She loves listening to, and telling stories from people in the Maritimes. You can reach her at emma.davie@cbc.ca.

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