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Woman rescued from freezing river

RCMP Const. Martin Kortas was one of two officers who waded into the near-freezing waters of the Millstone River to retrieve a distraught woman New Year’s Day. - Chris Bush photo
RCMP Const. Martin Kortas was one of two officers who waded into the near-freezing waters of the Millstone River to retrieve a distraught woman New Year’s Day.
— image credit: Chris Bush photo

Several Nanaimo Mounties are being credited with saving a distraught woman after taking an unexpected polar bear swim in the frigid waters of the Millstone River early New Year’s Day.

Police responded at about 7:30 a.m. when residents on White Street, in Nanaimo’s Quarterway neighbourhood, called saying a woman had jumped over a fence into their back yard and then fled their property to start running in and out of traffic on Bowen Road.

“She just seemed like a lady in distress, that’s all, but she didn’t want to sit down on the deck and wait for police or anything like that,” said resident Keith Brown. “We said, ‘Sit down, relax. You’re safe here.’”

When Mounties arrived on Bowen Road and couldn’t find the woman, they started foot patrols around the area and found her about 30 minutes later standing waist deep in the middle of the Millstone River, about 250 metres downstream from the Quarterway Bridge and about six metres from shore.

Sgt. Robert Graves, the officer who discovered her, tried to coax the woman to shore.

Wearing only a halter top and blue jeans, she had been in the near freezing water at least 10 minutes, was beginning to show signs of hypothermia while also asking police to let her die or shoot her. She ignored Grave’s efforts to get her to grab onto a branch or his extended baton and also refused to reach for a rescue rope that was thrown to her.

“Eventually she did try to come to shore when she gained a little bit of trust, but by that time she was quite cold,” said Const. Martin Kortas. “You could see she was really starting to fall asleep in the water.”

Realizing the woman was rapidly losing strength and fearing she could be swept downstream into a much more dangerous section of the river, Kortas and Cpl. Phyllis Nielsen waded out into the river, which was chest deep at one point, and managed to push the woman back to constables Phillip Hu, Dave Hough and Benoit Lanthier who were waiting on shore.

“We were in under two minutes,” Kortas said. “It was extremely cold. There were other officers on shore and they all formed a daisy chain and kept pulling her along up onto the trail to where the paramedics were standing by.”

Paramedics wrapped the 40-year-old woman in blankets and took her to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital to be treated for hypothermia. She was later admitted to NRGH for observation under the Mental Health Act.

Kortas said in his 13 years with the RCMP this is the first – and hopefully will be the last – time he has had to attempt a water rescue.

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