Memories of drownings still fresh in Pouch Cove

Steve Bartlett
Published on March 8, 2011
A Canadian Coast Guard helicopter hovers above the waters of Pouch Cove while looking for two of three teenage boys who were swept away March 8, 2001.
File photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Time hasn’t faded Sarah Patten’s memory of the day the ocean claimed the lives of three Pouch Cove teens.

The tragedy happened 10 years ago today. Patten was the small community’s mayor, a position she still holds today.

“It was horrendous,” she recalled Monday.

The accident occurred late in the afternoon of March 8, 2001.

Some teenaged boys were “copying” ice pans — jumping from one to another — when a wave hauled one into the water.

Two friends tried to rescue him but they, too, were pulled in by waves.

The three boys — Jesse Elliott, Adam Wall and A.J. Sullivan — drowned. A fourth boy who was with them ran for help.

The loss of three teens who ranged in age from 16 to 18 shook Pouch Cove and captured the national media’s spotlight.

Patten remembers driving home from work in St. John’s and seeing the commotion in her community and around her home by the sea.

“I said, ‘What am I going to do? I got to go over.’ It’s one of those things that you really don’t know if you want to go over there.”

In the end, she went to the scene and then visited with the boys’ families.

Fortunately, she said, their bodies were eventually recovered.

Patten said the families appear to be doing well now.

She’s unsure how much pain they’re still dealing with, and suggests if it were one of her children who was lost, she likely wouldn’t be doing that well.

Walter Butt was Pouch Cove’s deputy mayor at the time and oversaw the town’s emergency response as the tragedy unfolded.

Like Patten, his memories remain fresh.

“I think it will take a long time before the people of Pouch Cove forget this tragedy,” said Butt, currently a town councillor.

Asked how tough it was, he replied, “Let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t want to go through it again.”

Both Patten and Butt said the tragedy made the people of Pouch Cove more aware of the power of the sea.

“You don’t see as many people around the water now like you used to,” said Butt.

“I think people have more respect today for the water than ever before, because it shows no mercy.”

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