Yve Leroy and two of his colleagues were driving back to their office in Kippens Saturday when they came across a peculiar sight.
They saw what, at first glance, appeared to be two people standing on the thin ice of a pond off to the side of the main road into Stephenville.
“But when we got closer we noticed that it wasn’t ice but indeed they were standing on something,” said Leroy.
What the crew from Bailey's Marine Services witnessed was the unfolding of a potentially deadly accident.
According to the Bay St. George RCMP detachment, a Ford Explorer SUV left the road on Route 490, by the Stephenville Exit, and landed in
the middle of an icy pond at about
There were three occupants, including a 51-year-old man, a 29-year-old woman and a one-year-old infant.
None of the three family members were injured and all have been released from hospital, said Const. Luc St-Hilaire with the RCMP, but if circumstances were slightly different, there may not have been a positive outcome.
“They are lucky, the family,” said St-Hilaire.
After the vehicle left the road, the man quickly got the woman and child out of SUV before it sank.
“In his employment they train and practise getting out of submerged vehicles. So he actually knew what to do right away.
“Had he not, the (ordinary) person might have panicked and there’s a great possibility they could have all drowned,” said St-Hilaire.
Once the man, woman and child were all out of the vehicle they climbed on its roof.
In a stroke of luck the SUV had flown over the deepest section of the pond and landed in the relatively shallow middle. The vehicle sank but its roof was only a few inches under water, which allowed the family to stay mostly out of the freezing cold pond.
Someone who witnessed the accident called the RCMP and police arrived minutes later, the local RCMP detachment is about a kilometre away from the accident site.
Just as police arrived at the scene of the accident Leroy and his crew were also passing by. They were on their way home from finishing a quick job when they passed the accident.
The men stopped and offered their help to one of the RCMP officers. The police had no water gear with them so after a short delay the crew’s offer was accepted.
At the same time a young man had also stopped and offered the use of a surf board he had in his vehicle.
Leroy, a professional commercial diver, donned his wetsuit, tied a rope to the surfboard and swam out to the stricken SUV. Meanwhile, the second diver on the crew, Jeremy Mutton, also put on his suit, retrieved some life jackets, and swam out to join Leroy.
Once the swimmers got themselves and the board to the SUV they had to convince the woman to get on.
“She was hesitant about getting on it at first,” said Leroy, adding that she was nearly hysterical at this point.
“I said to her, ‘Sweetheart, you’re going to have to trust me on this. We got to get you out of here,” he said.
Eventually the woman and baby were fitted with lifejackets and all four were pulled to shore, with the two divers on either side of the board to keep it stable. The men then made a second trip to retrieve the man from the SUV.
All three people that had been in the Explorer were then hurried off to hospital but the only injury was a mild case of hypothermia in the man.
Leroy made a third and fourth trip out to the sunken SUV; once with his scuba gear to find the family’s dog, but it could not be found, and once again to attach a tow truck cable.
He considers it a happy twist of fate that he and his colleagues were passing when they did, he said.
“The officers commented that it was a stroke of luck that we happened to be coming by, because nobody there had a boat, life jackets or nothing. And to put (the family) into the water this time of year would have been quite the shock on the body,” he said.
The RCMP won’t say what caused the Explorer to leave the road and land in the pond. According to St-Hilaire the reason was not criminal so the cause of the accident will not be released. The identities of the family involved are also not being released.
The family has asked, through the RCMP, that a sincere “thank you” go out to all who came to their aid.
Leroy and his crew are just happy they could help.
“I think somebody was looking after them today,” he said.