'Fighting for his life': Fisherman recounts harrowing rescue from waters off Malpeque

A fisherman from Lennox Island says he's thankful to be alive after he went overboard off Malpeque, P.E.I., on Tuesday.

Armed Forces crew training nearby was able to respond quickly and pull man to safety

Mike Day says he's still feeling 'a little sore' two days after he was thrown from his dory and rescued from the cold ocean waters off Malpeque, P.E.I. (Submitted by Mike Day)

Cold and exhausted after treading water for more than two hours in the rough ocean waters off Malpeque, P.E.I., without a life jacket, Mike Day says he was was relieved to look up and see a big yellow helicopter stop overhead and a rescuer descend toward him.

"I was getting cold and my leg was on the verge of cramping up," he said in an interview Thursday, two days after the harrowing ordeal.

"Once the rescue swimmer came down, I just kind of relaxed a little bit and I was glad."

Day, a fisherman from Lennox Island, was alone on his dory Tuesday when two waves knocked him overboard. He had no floatation device, nor was he wearing the kill switch around his wrist that would have shut the engine off and allowed him to climb back on the boat.

I'd just like to say thanks. I think they did a wonderful job and I'm glad they found me.— Mike Day

"The boat was idling, doing circles, and I tried to get on a couple times, but I couldn't and then it started going farther and farther away," he said.

Day said he took off his hip waders and rain jacket so he could swim better. He could see a few mussel boats in the distance, but with just his head sticking out of the water, they couldn't see him.

"I couldn't believe where I was," he said.

Man rescued off Malpeque, P.E.I. (Donnie MacKenzie/Facebook) 0:48

Meanwhile, a Canadian Armed Forces crew happened to be in a Cormorant helicopter doing a routine training exercise around Summerside when they got a call from the rescue centre in Halifax about a man overboard near Malpeque Bay.

Because they were already in the air, they were able to get to Malpeque quicker than usual — in about 10 minutes, said Master Cpl. Ryan Morris.

"It was very quick. It was very lucky. The timing was perfect, really," he said.

Head bobbing among the waves

After about an hour of searching one of the seven crew members aboard the helicopter saw Day's head bobbing among the waves.

"His head, because he wasn't wearing a life preserver, was the only thing that was outside of the water so it's super difficult," Morris said. "When we spotted him, we estimated we were around 50 to 75 metres away from him, and boats had been passing him in that channel all day long and they still hadn't seen him."

He was fighting for his life, he wasn't extremely coherent.— Master Cpl. Ryan Morris

Morris descended from the helicopter and into the water, which was about 10 C. He said Day's eyes were open and he was making incoherent sounds when they initially made contact.

"He was fighting for his life, he wasn't extremely coherent, he wasn't talking to me,"
 Morris said. "He wasn't exactly following directions, but you can't blame the guy, the guy had been treading water for about two hours at that time, which is incredible without floatation."

Capt. Tyler Kitson, the aircraft commander, said it took about six minutes to hoist him aboard the helicopter and deliver him to paramedics waiting at Cabot Beach Provincial Park about 200 metres away.

Master Cpl. Ryan Morris had a hand in two rescues on Tuesday — one in the ocean and one at a restaurant. (Submitted by Maj. Amber Bineau)

Day was taken to Prince County Hospital and released about five hours later. On Thursday, he said he's "still a little sore," but is feeling better. He said he usually wears a life jacket and that in the future it would be a "good idea," to do so. He is also grateful to the people who rescued him.

"I'd just like to say thanks. I think they did a wonderful job and I'm glad they found me."

2 rescues in 1 day

But the story doesn't end there for Morris and the crew. After they flew back to Summerside on Tuesday, they stopped at Anson's Restaurant for lunch.

Suddenly, a woman at a nearby table began coughing and choking, Morris said.

"She was still speaking, she just said something was stuck in her throat, and that escalated quickly to no words, just coughing and pointing."

Morris and Sgt. Brad Nisbet went over and performed the Heimlich manoeuvre until the food was dislodged and she was breathing again.

"She had to see an ambulance, then she came back in, gave us a hug and then she went on her way."

It was a day Morris won't soon forget.

"You want to help as many people as you can, but you don't think you'll get two in a day," he said. "It was a good feeling. I went home and it felt good."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Brittany Spencer