Mariano Santander-Melo (right) pictured with Aaron Jones of Calgary (left) celebrating together one day after Jones saved Santander-Melo from a near-drowning incident at Suzanne Lake. Santander-Melo says he’s now viewing life through new eyes. Submitted

Survivor of near-drowning in B.C. lake viewing life through new eyes

“If I died that day, the baby wouldn’t know his dad,” said 31-year-old Mariano Santander-Melo.

Thirty-one-year-old Mariano Santander-Melo is viewing life through new eyes.

The young Calgary carpenter is thankful to be alive after a brush with death on Saturday, July 6.

Look back: Fisherman called hero after saving man from drowning near Fernie

He and his family arrived Friday night for a weekend of relaxation at Suzanne Lake, a popular recreation spot west of Elko.

The next afternoon, Santander-Melo, his family and friends were out floating together on the lake. He eventually informed the group he was going to swim back near the middle of the lake. Suzanne Lake measures about 800 metres long, and 500 metres wide.

Santander-Melo admitted one week later that he is still in disbelief at what happened next.

“So I jumped into the water, and I know how to swim, but I’m in the middle of the lake and I had a cramp in my leg, so (I tried to) swim more, but I got tired, and I couldn’t swim anymore,” he explained.

“So I was trying to ask for help to the boats around me, the ones near me, but they were a little bit far,” Santander-Melo continued. “The last thing I remember is that I see him (Aaron Jones) swim down and everything went black,” he said.

The Free Press previously reported that the quick actions of a fisherman proved pivotal in saving an individual.

Aaron Jones of Calgary was returning to his campsite after a day of fishing on the other side of the lake. As he and his group were approaching the middle of the lake, they noticed a man who was having a hard time swimming, and was calling out for help.

“As we were moving the boat towards him, he went under, and he didn’t come back up,” said Jones. “So once I saw that he was going under I jumped in, I went down, he was pretty much at the bottom by the time I got to him, (and I) swam him back up to the surface.”

Jones explained that as Santander-Melo was being pulled back up to the surface, he was completely unconscious, his eyes wide open. Jones tried to find a pulse, but couldn’t.

Several others helped get him get the man back to shore and both Jones and Santander-Melo’s brother-in-law started performing CPR. On the shore close by was the man’s father-in-law and expectant wife. Jones explained that this really hit home with him, as he was also at the lake with his wife and young child.

Jones, an operations manager for a scaffolding company in Calgary, just happened to be in the Fernie area that weekend camping with friends. Jones said this certainly wasn’t how he planned to spend his weekend, but was very glad that the outcome was what it was. He stressed that the rescue was not just him, adding that there were several others on shore, including local volunteer firefighters and mine rescue workers that were able to take over once the man was in recovery position,. This allowed Jones to catch his breath.

After an unknown amount of time, the group was able to resuscitate Santander-Melo. When the young Calgarian woke up, he was very disoriented and confused.

“When I came back, when I wake up, there was a lot of people around me and I was like ‘oh man, what happened? I was really surprised,” he said. “Everyone was looking at me and saying ‘oh he’s alive, he’s good’.”

Melo lay on the beach until an ambulance arrived to assist him. People around tried to explain to him what had happened, but it was what Jones and Santander-Melo’s brother-in-law told him that he remembered most of all.

“Both of them, they told me later, that both of them, they bring me back, because literally I was gone,” he said.

One week after the incident, Santander-Melo says his perspective on life has changed completely. The soon-to-be father paused – then continued to explain that any day now, he and his wife will celebrate the birth of their new child.

“That’s really crazy for me – we are just waiting for the moment,” he said. “It’s really… it’s really freaky. I’m thankful for the people that were there. All of the people, they helped me, everybody was really worried about me.”

Santander-Melo says he is viewing life through new eyes, and explained how every decision, no matter how seemingly small, can change your life at any moment.

“If I died that day, the baby wouldn’t know his dad,” he said. “The little one – the little one; that will make me think a lot more.

“I’m really, really thankful for the people – like Aaron – to be there and to jump and save me. There was a lot of people there but they were far away. He (Aaron) was the only one around. I’m really, really grateful.”

After the dust had settled, Santander-Melo and his family invited the many individuals involved in the rescue, over to their campsite for a feast.

“Actually, the night was to him (Aaron),” said Santander-Melo. “Everybody was thanking him, and saying that he was a hero… he was there at the right moment, the right time.”



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