A 57-year-old angler from Surrey, swept into the Fraser River last week when his waders filled with water, was going down a third and possibly final time when he was rescued by a Chilliwack man and his son.
“He was just about done,” said Dan Bergmann, who was fishing nearby with his son Luke when he heard “a bunch of screaming” from the crowd of anglers downstream at a popular fishing spot called Peg Leg.
When they got near the drowning man, they tried throwing a rope to him, but when that didn’t work, Luke was able to grab him by the wrist to hold him above water.
“We were yelling at him, ‘Stay with us, don’t let go,’” Bergmann said.
But it was clear to Bergmann that the man was exhausted, with no more will to hang on.
“He was just looking at us, but there was no look of fear or anxiety in his eyes, just ‘I’m done,’” he said. “It was a horrible look.”
Luke wasn’t able to lift the man into the boat, so he held onto him while Dan navigated the boat to the beach on the north side of the river.
The man lay there motionless for about 20 minutes, and then started “heaving up water and stuff,” Bergmann said.
“He told us that he had tried to get his vest off and boots off after he fell into the water,” Bergmann said. But the man was fishing alone, with no friends or family nearby, to help before he was caught in the current.
After resting for about half and hour on the beach, the three men climbed into the boat and headed back to Peg Leg.
“I told him, everybody on shore is going to be clapping and cheering for you because they’re so happy for you,” Bergmann said.
Sure enough, the prediction came true as the crowd of about 100 people broke into applause when they landed.
“It was a really heart-warming sight,” Bergmann said. “When you’re at the mercy of God and all of a sudden you’re cared for by all these people.”
Chilliwack RCMP said this is the third river rescue this summer, all with the potential of being fatal were it not for the “heroic efforts” of people like Bergmann and his 23-year-old son.
“There’s no question these men are absolute heroes,” Const. Tracy Wolbeck said.
Bergmann said there have been other near-drownings at Peg Leg, ironically all of them while fishing from the shore.
“The gravel on the edge is almost slippery,” he said, and when anglers cast a line they sometimes slide into the water, where they can be in big trouble if their waders fill with water.
“People not used to it, they don’t stand back far enough,” he said, and can slide into the river that runs “very fast and very deep” at Peg Leg.
“Once the current has you, it sweeps you away from shore really fast,” he said.