Watery rescue attempt earns bravery medals

An attempt to save a Nanaimo man whose vehicle plunged down a bank into the Millstone River has earned four men Canada’s Medal of Bravery.

With the ocean at low tide Monday

With the ocean at low tide Monday

An attempt to save a Nanaimo man whose vehicle plunged down a bank into the Millstone River has earned four men Canada’s Medal of Bravery.

Michael Anderson, Glen Watts, Brent Blackmore and RCMP Const. Shane Nicoll all entered the water trying to save 86-year-old James McAllister after his car went through a guard rail on the Pearson Bridge, down the embankment and into the frigid river in January 2008.

The four were unable to save McAllister.

Watts and Blackmore were the first to reach the vehicle and Anderson swam out with a rock to try and break a window.

Watts crawled in through a hole in the rear window and tried to release McAllister’s seatbelt as the car began to sink. Nicoll provided a knife so Watts could try and cut the belt.

“I tried to do my best, but there just wasn’t enough time,” said Watts. “I had been in the water for seven or eight minutes and that’s a lot of time in cold water. I could feel my body start to close down.”

As the car started to sink, Watts found himself in a difficult situation.

“The water was murky green and I don’t know if I could have found the hole to get out underwater,” he said. “As the car started going under, it was either get out then or go under with the car.”

The award ceremony takes place later this year at Rideau Hall in Ottawa with David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, awarding two stars of courage and 56 medals of bravery.

Watts said he has mixed feelings about the award.

“I feel good that I tried, but just wish it had been a different outcome,” he said. “Even if I had got the seatbelt off and the door open, he was a big man and I don’t know if I would have been able to get him out of the car myself. It’s always in the back of my mind had we got him out of the car, might he have made it? You just don’t know.”

The Medal of Bravery, recognizing acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances, is not the first award the men have received for their actions.

They were awarded Lifesaving Society of B.C. and Yukon’s Silver Medal for Bravery and Merit in March 2008.

“It’s hard to deal with when I let myself think about it,” said Watts, who plans to attend the ceremony. “I just wish things had been a lot different for the entire situation.”