This story was actually written by an old friend of mine — Otto Edle. Otto and I formed a friendship in the 1970s when I worked in 100 Mile House as a radio manager and Otto was the manager of what was then known as Overwaitea.
By chance I ran into Otto recently while we were both at Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake visiting our mutual friend, Walter Box.
We got to talking about an incident five years ago where Otto almost drowned in the Bella Coola Valley but was saved by five firemen. We both agreed that the story should be told, and my column this week is of Otto telling the story in his own words.
I’m Otto Edle and I would like to tell you a true story about five Williams Lake heroes.
I was fishing on the Bella Coola River with five Williams Lake firemen friends. It was a very beautiful October day and we were drifting the river fishing for Coho Salmon. It was a great day with two boats, fish in both.
I was in one boat with Walter Box and Russ Taylor, and in the other boat was Rick Jelley, Randy Isfeld and Mick MacBurney.
We were almost to where the trucks were parked when disaster happened.
The change in the river swept us into a log sticking out into the river, and in an instant the boat was filled with water and threw all three of us into the water. Walter and Russ jumped out onto the root ball of the large tree in the log jam. I was thrown into the water and the boat came up full of water, rods, reels, gear and parts of the boat were swept away. My instinct was to save the boat. As I groped for the gunnel, the boat and I were swept partially under the log jam, my left leg was forced between the gunnel of the boat and the log.
With the tremendous force of the river pushing at my back, I could not move except to hang onto the log and waited for my leg to break. I yelled for Walter and Russ as I could not see them behind me hanging onto the root ball. I was afraid they had been swept away. Walter yelled to say they were behind me and I yelled again and I was sure my leg was going to break. Walter and Russ proceeded to crawl along the log to where I was.
To back up a bit, we had just passed the other drift boat with Rick Jelley, Mick MacBurney and Randy Isfeld. They heard my yells and were able to change course in the river, then they came to the log and proceeded to shimmy along until they were able to hang onto me. I had now been in the cold, swift water for about 30 minutes, still waiting for my leg to break. Walter was now in the water holding me up as I was getting weaker. I told Walter that I did not want to be swept under the log as I could not hang on much longer. If they had to pull on me and break my leg at least I will still be alive, I told them.
Russ went into the end of the boat that was sticking out of the other side of the log, and with one board under the log against the boat. I could feel a bit of movement when he pried down, and I screamed. Then with great effort of Russ prying, Rick and Mick pulling at Walter behind me holding me up, I felt a movement of one inch which was enough for my knee to come free. These firemen pulled me up on the log, shivering and very cold. Rick, Mick and Randy slowly pulled me along the log to the drift boat. The boys were then, with great effort, able to float Walter’s boat from under the log minus one oar, fishing equipment and a seat.
With the four of us in one boat and towing Walter’s boat we drifted around to the corner to the truck. On the way to the Baily Bridge we had the heater on full blast in the truck so I could warm up.
Thanks to those five Williams Lake firemen for saving my life.
Pressy Lake, B.C.