Former Saskatoon lifeguard rescues family from drowning in B.C. lake

Rosa Kouri, a former Saskatoon resident, put her decades-old lifeguard training to use when she saw a family struggling to stay afloat at Thetis Lake last week.

Rosa Kouri hopes incident will encourage use of lifeguards at Thetis Lake

Rosa Kouri was key in rescuing a family from Thetis Lake near Victoria, B.C. (Submitted by Rosa Kouri)

Rosa Kouri was at Thetis Lake, near Victoria, B.C., with her family last week when she heard a man in the water crying for help. About six metres from shore, he was struggling to keep his wife and son afloat.

"I had my four-month-old daughter and I checked to make sure she was safe with my mother and then I immediately bolted down the hill and ran down to the water," Kouri recalled to host Garth Materie on CBC's Afternoon Edition.

The former Saskatoon resident, who trained as a lifeguard in the city, said she "didn't even think," she just dove in. Her lifeguard training, which she got about 20 years ago, had taught her it's much easier to rescue someone above water than someone who has slipped beneath the surface.

Kouri said when she reached them it was a "bit of a mess." The mother and son were in distress and the father was overwhelmed trying to keep them above water. 

"I think I just grabbed all the limbs I could, and I tried to remember my lifeguard training — which was a long time ago when I was a teenager — and just tried to tow them in."

Somewhere between the family and the shore was an underwater ledge where the water became suddenly shallow. Kouri said her goal was to drag the family close enough that they could catch their footing, but it wasn't so easy. 

The group made their way to the ledge, bobbing up and down in the water. But Kouri said it was such a messy rescue that she couldn't quite make it. 

When she called for help, onlookers made a human chain and reached out to her, grabbing her arm and pulling her and the family close enough to get a foothold. 

LISTEN | Rosa Kouri spoke with host Garth Materie on The Afternoon Edition 

"I've thought a lot about it since, and it's just a learning moment, all the things I would do differently," she said of the incident, which happened on July 22. "There's nothing [in lifeguard training] that tells you how to rescue a group."

She said the family was in shock and gasping for air when they were safe on shore but appeared to be OK. The father thanked her in between gasps of breaths, she said. 

Since the distressing experience, Kouri has asked for more signage at Thetis Lake Regional Park to address a drop-off in the water that she speculates caused the incident. 

She also hopes that the region considers employing lifeguards, which she said were posted at nearby beaches a couple of decades ago.

The Capital Regional District (CRD) says every year it promotes water safety messaging on social media, including swimming with a buddy and staying in shallow water if you are not a strong swimmer. 

The CRD said in an email that signs are up to warn swimmers of dangers. Lifeguards are no longer at the park for several reasons, including that people had a false sense of security when lifeguards were present and incidents often happened when they were not on duty.

The district plans to have a more visible presence in regional parks this long weekend to educate visitors.