When Tim Burdett pulled his unconscious 79-year-old father from Lake Huron, he feared the worst.
“He was blue in the face, like this blueish, purplish colour that I don’t ever want to see again,” said Burdett, a Calgary resident who was visiting his hometown of Point Edward recently when disaster struck.
On July 25, Burdett, his wife Karen and son Connor went for a pleasure cruise with Tim’s father, Francis Burdett.
In a boat piloted by family cousin Tom Irving, they dropped anchor after lunch and went for a swim over sand bars near Blue Point. Several other boats were in the area.
Tim was the first to jump into the water, followed by Karen and Connor. Francis, a seasoned swimmer and boater for most of his life, dove in last.
When Karen returned to the 33-foot Sea Ray, she noticed her father-in-law was caught up by the current and drifting away.
“I was having a hard time swimming back myself because of the current,” said Connor Burdett, 16, who had also just come back on board. “I saw my grandpa was struggling and his face was going a little red.”
Francis called for a rope but by the time they could get him a lifeline, he had already gone under, Karen recalled. She screamed for help and Connor dove in.
Tim was about 100 feet away when he noticed something was wrong back at the boat.
“As soon as I heard (Karen screaming), the adrenaline kicked in and I swam faster than I’ve ever swam before. I probably would’ve won the 100-metre swim,” he said with a laugh. “And all I was thinking on the way over there is, if my dad’s in the water and we can’t find him, we’re in big trouble.”
Meanwhile Connor feverishly searched the area where his grandfather went under.
“I just couldn’t find him,” he recalled. “I kept going under, and I couldn’t see anything. I had my eyes open… you could only see less than two feet in front of you.”
Suddenly he spotted a shadow below the surface. He reached out and grasped his grandfather’s wrist. By then, Tim had arrived.
A certified scuba diver with rescue training, Tim paddled his unresponsive father back to the boat. By now several other boaters had pulled up and a few strangers jumped in to help get Francis back in the boat. Karen was the first to administer CPR.
“I didn’t have time to think, I just had time to react,” she said. “I knew what I needed to do and I just did it. Your training just kicks in.”
After several cycles, Francis suddenly coughed, spitting out lake water, and taking shallow breaths, Tim recalled.
Tim and Connor, along with volunteers, were able to get Francis onto an inflatable tube and onto shore where emergency responders were waiting to take him to hospital.
That night, doctors called the family to say Francis had taken a turn for the worse, as can sometimes happen with near drownings, Tim said. But after a night in the Intensive Care Unit, his condition improved and he was discharged three days later.
“Everything happened really fast; everyone reacted really fast,” Tim recalled. “If my wife didn’t see him, he would have been gone. If my son didn’t get him, he would have been gone.
“Everything happened exactly the way that it should have happened in order for him to survive.”
Karen said the incident is a reminder that even experienced swimmers can run into trouble out on the water.
“You never know when their strength or their will is going to give out on them. Everybody needs to watch each other.”