James Milne knows his voice isn’t as strong as it used to be, but it was still strong enough to save his life Sunday.
Milne, 74, was out for a paddle in his modified canoe (it had a higher seat, which altered the centre of gravity) Sunday near Goose Spit in Comox, when he tried to push off a barnacle-covered buoy and fell into the water.
Although he was wearing a life-jacket, he quickly realized his attempts to swim to safety were not going to work, as he was too far away from shore.
“I was considering the fact that I wasn’t going to be here anymore,” he said softly.
Milne started yelling – but he said years of coaching high school rugby has significantly diminished the strength of his voice.
Fortunately for Milne, his voice carried far enough for someone onshore to hear, and subsequently spot, the danger.
An emergency call for assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard was placed and two off-duty paramedics – Ryan Thorburn and Bill Coltart – heard the call at the Comox Marina, as Coltart was returning from his charter tour boat.
“We hopped into Bill’s boat and we could see [Milne] swimming in the water and pulled alongside him,” explained Thorburn. “When we pulled him out of the water (it didn’t look good). I could tell he was tired of kicking and he couldn’t stand up. Hypothermia is always worse when swimming.”
Thorburn stripped down and placed his clothes on Milne in an attempt to slowly raise his body temperature.
He estimates by the time they pulled Milne into the boat, he was in the water for about half an hour. Despite talking to first responders and police in not much more then his underwear, Thorburn brushed off a suggestion that he and Coltart performed a heroic act.
“It’s what anyone should do in that situation. We weren’t far away.”
Milne recalls one of the rescuers giving him all of his clothes.
“He was standing in his underwear and they put me over the hot register with a blanket over me. They managed to call the ambulance … when I got to the hospital they had hot transfusions and hot packs under my armpits to bring my temperature up. It was a close call.”
He admitted while he is a risk taker, he knows “what stupid things I did.”
“I’ve done a lot of canoeing and I’ve never had a serious accident before. (The rescuers) were at the right place at the right time … (and I want) to show my appreciation for them. I guess my time wasn’t there yet.”