One Gibsons resident almost didn’t make it to the new year when he fell into the icy waters of Gibsons Harbour before dawn on Dec. 31.
Gibsons Harbour live-aboard Marta Habkirk happened to stay up late that Monday night, retiring at about 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 31.
“It’s very, very quiet here at night, especially that late. There’s not a sound in the harbour,” Habkirk said. “So I was going to bed and my bed is in the lower part of my boat and through the hull I could hear this splashing, quite an usual noise for that time of night.”
Habkirk said she “knew right away” someone was struggling in the water and she rushed to the top deck of her boat to help.
“I could see his arms flailing, but he had so many clothes on, a big winter jacket and stuff, and he was really in trouble because the clothes being wet were just pulling him down,” Habkirk said. “I just yelled ‘help’ three times because there’s certain people who live in the harbour and we all kind of look after each other. I’ve been here a long time, 20 years, and just certain people will come if you call.”
A man from a nearby tugboat responded to Habkirk’s call for help “immediately,” she said.
Together the pair helped pull the man to the stern of the tugboat where they could get a better hold on him.
“Where he was, there was no way he could get out. He was on the side of a boat that didn’t have a ladder and he was panicking and he couldn’t talk because the clothes were dragging his head under,” Habkirk said.
Soon a few more live-aboards from the harbour came to help and together they pulled the man from the water.
“They got him onto the tug and I just ran to call 9-1-1,” Habkirk said, noting the ambulance responded very quickly.
The young man, who didn’t want to be named in the newspaper, was released from hospital and later came back to the dock to thank Habkirk for her quick response that helped save his life.
It was then Habkirk learned what caused the young man to end up in the harbour.
The Gibsons man was prone to sleep walking and he was staying alone on a friend’s boat for the night, she recalled.
“So he just got up in his sleep, opened the door and stepped off the boat,” Habkirk said.
The incident has been emotional for Habkirk who lost her partner in a similar drowning accident 11 years ago.
“For me it was kind of like a flashback because it was in November when I lost my partner and he was also wearing tons of winter clothes and when I saw that man struggling with all those winter clothes I just had the thought that must have been what it was like for my Garry when he drowned, because he never could have got out on his own, and with the cold you only have a minute or two,” she said.
The young man she helped rescue on Dec. 31 was extremely grateful for her assistance and hugged her tightly when they met days after the accident.
“I just feel really grateful that I heard him,” Habkirk said. “It could have been much worse.”