Saturday, December 11, 2010
Black Water - Thin Ice
There is a road in my neighbourhood that is not really a road but rather part of an original dike established after the great flood of 1950, a massive thrusting of the mighty Red River that engulfed an entire city, humbling its citizenry, reminding them that there are some forces that are far more powerful than those of mankind.
Water is a force unto itself, a powerful element and one that not only are we made of but one that we need to survive for without it we dry up and eventually perish. Over the millennia we have worshipped it and tried to tame it but in the end the force of water always wins.
And so it was last Saturday that the Red claimed a life. Two brothers who had just moved to the area were off on an adventure as only excited children can embark upon. The ice was not yet thick enough and they both fell into the icy, treacherous waters.
A young man happened to be driving by and was able to rescue the older brother but it was little 6 year-old Nathaniel who would be lost.
The Police Dive Team was deployed the next day in what would now be a recovery mission, a heart-breaking one indeed that due to zero visibility would yield no results. Imagine being in a black, cold space feeling your way around branches and other detritus, your only "security" being a line you are tethered to....you are encased in a dry suit, with two heavy tanks attached....you are literally flying blind and all the time wondering just what it is you may be feeling in those cold, swirling currents. On average a diver will spend between 45 minutes to an hour in this black, icy void.
By Wednesday on the eighth of December the search was called off as conditions were deemed too dangerous to continue the operation.
The river at present is running higher than normal so it is a guessing game right now as to where little Nathaniel may be. The curves of the river and the dense brush that is underwater both serve as two forces unto themselves. He could be trapped in the underbrush or by the vagaries of the currents he could be further down river. Optimists want to believe that he will be found not too far from where he fell through the ice.
This is where we come to today's events......another team is continuing the search under the auspices of the Manitoba Search and Rescue and Canadian Amphibious Search Team - Central Region. The mood at the staging area is sombre, the temperature with the wind chill a miserable -35 Centigrade. Warming tents have been set up and the community of Point Douglas has rallied around to feed and assist in whatever small ways possible these dedicated volunteers who are putting their lives at risk to bring closure to a grieving family.
I walked down that lonely dike road last night because I had to see for myself where it had happened. I could see the flashing lights under the ice that the police team had put into place last weekend......blinking away randomly they were eerie given that this is the season of festive lights. The wreath with the Teddy Bear placed lovingly near one of the bridge buttresses, a lone sentinel of grief, was a stark reminder of what had recently taken place.
As I trudged home, legs and hands going numb from the biting cold I could not help but think of the fragile little boy, his body suspended somewhere in that black void.
I was not going to go to the staging area today but I changed my mind as that old siren call of the journalist was too strong to resist but there was another reason, several actually, that drove me to make that frigid journey today for you see I am a trained rescue diver and divemaster, albeit one who works not in cold water but who has worked in recovery in the tropics and yes, I have been through a recovery operation.
One can watch on the telly all they like about operations involving danger and the recovery of bodies and other various human tragedies and think to themselves "what is the big deal?" Yes, there are folks like that out there who by virtue of never having had to deal with this sort of scenario really have little clue as to the emotions going through the mind of one who has to set aside sadness in order to do a job that is trying under any circumstances.
That this is the recovery (hopefully) of a child makes it all the more difficult to take. I do not envy any of these individuals today and I wish them all the best in their sorrowful task but the pragmatist in me knows that no matter how well-coordinated this effort is, in the end it will be the River and several mitigating factors that will determine the final outcome.
All one can do is hope for the best.
Link to an updated article posted January 30th, 2011