Arnprior man rescues two girls from drowning at Robert Simpson Park
It was a typical Sunday evening for Arnprior resident Steve McGonigal.
He brought his family to the beach at Robert Simpson Park in Arnprior, west of Ottawa, but the quiet visit was interrupted by pleas for help.
Two young girls, no older than 10-years-old, had drifted from the shore and fallen off their inflatable water toy.
"Betty and Louis (witnesses) starting screaming, they’re struggling, they’re drowning. And then I heard Chris (witness) and there was just an alarm in his voice. He said, Oh my god they’re drowning," McGonigal recounts. "One of them was over their head."
McGonigal says it was then, without thought, that he leaped into action from the parking lot.
"I went flying over this wall," McGonigal said, describing the wall of boulders separating the beach parking lot from the rocky shore. "I went out and grabbed the one girl, and I turned to come in and she started screaming, 'My sister, my sister.'"
That’s when the 59-year-old lifelong Arnprior resident realized there was a second girl in the water.
"I turned in the water and there was a little girl who was looking up at me from the water, and she was not struggling anymore to come up," says McGonigal. "I looked down and I grabbed her and I clutched them both, and I brought them in.”
McGonigal says while he was out in the water, another bystander called 911 and an ambulance arrived on the scene.
"(Paramedics) checked them out and one of them did have water in her lungs, she was aspirating. So they took her and treated her, and thank God everyone was okay."
McGonigal says he doesn’t know who either of the girls are, but that he’s had nightmares about the incident since it happened a week ago and hopes the telling of the events will make people more aware when around water.
"Maybe it was supervision and maybe it was other factors, but I think hopefully it brings an awareness to water safety and just how quick it can happen."
"I’m grateful that the bystanders took such immediate and swift action to rescue these young girls," says Graeme Ivory, Arnprior's Director of Recreation. "We can’t thank them enough for jumping to their rescue and being aware of the danger that presented itself."
There were no lifeguards on duty at the time of the event and the buoys marking the safe swimming zone was not put in place yet. Ivory says the beach isn’t staffed this early in the season.
"Typically our beach opens officially on the first of July. So that’s when our lifeguards begin their patrolling and buoy lines typically go in a week before we open up our beach."
Ivory says this year, lifeguards will be on duty starting June 21.
With the buoys in place now, Ivory says it is always important to be alert around water even if there are lifeguards on duty.
"First and foremost, always be within arms reach of your child. If they are not strong swimmers they should always have some type of floatation device, a PFD on them," said Ivory, adding you should never swim at night, and never swim alone.
"And regardless of your child’s swimming ability, accidents can happen around water. That’s just the reality of things."