'Don't let go of me, man, don't let go of me'

Staff ~ The Cape Breton Post
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East Bay man rescued from under ice near Uisge Ban Falls

BADDECK — A 21-year-old East Bay man was safely pulled from the water near Uisge Ban Falls on Saturday after he fell through the ice.

Julian Rouleau's rescue came after his hiking group passed another group along the trail that leads to the 50-foot waterfall near Baddeck.

"We stopped just short of the falls and were having a picnic when these three young guys came along and we chatted with them a bit. They continued up to the falls," said Steve Ross, who was part of the group that pulled Rouleau from the icy waters.

Before the Ross group that also included Keiren Tompkins and Vince Forrestall turned to head back to his Baddeck cottage, he decided to take a picture of the falls.

That's when he noticed Rouleau's group climbing the face of the waterfall.

"It was frozen over, basically. You could see some water rushing around but for the most part it was frozen over," he said.

"The young kid Julian was making his way down the hill and took his snowshoes off, and decided to slide the last 10-15 feet. When he slid down feet first he kind of punched a hole right through the ice and disappeared into the abyss."

It turns out Rouleau had fallen into a hidden waterfall under the ice.

"The three young men were heading down the bigger falls as we approached," said Forrestall. "We were interested in the bigger falls and were slowly going up as Kerien had concerns of getting back down — going up was the easy point."

As they were heading up and the other group was heading down, Forestall mentioned to Rouleau that the small falls was under the ice.

"Within seconds he went through the ice and was swept, like on a water slide, under the ice. We all thought the worst as we were all surrounded by ice with running water underneath. We hoped he would come out an opening further down, but there was nothing and no sound."

Ross said he looked into the hole he saw nothing but rushing water. And then looked for a place where he might resurface downstream but also saw nothing.

It turns out the young man was swept into what Ross called a big cavern about four feet below the top of the ice.

"He was apparently caught in a vortex where the rushing water pushed back under the ice. You couldn't see him," said Ross.

Rouleau's friends were high above the hole, looking for any sign of him when they noticed his jacket floating through the water.

Tompkins then poked his head into the hole, and while Ross and others held his legs, reached as far as he could. He saw Rouleau swirling around in the water, so stuck his pole in and poked him.

"The kid grabbed the pole and we could pull him towards us. He was about five feet away.

Then Kieren got a hold of one hand and I got the other hand and we got his face out of the water.

I'll never forget, he said 'don't let go of me, man, don't let go of me.' We said 'we got you, we got you.'"

Though the rescue took only about a minute, Ross said it felt like much longer.

"It was a pretty good feeling, getting him out of there. They are great kids, just out having fun and not doing anything bad, just out for a hike."

After Rouleau was pulled from the water, they dried him off and took him back to Ross' cabin to warm up.

Ross was relieved everything turned out well and he couldn't help but think how it could have all gone another way.

"Keiren, when he first went into the park, was hanging behind by the car. I went back to see what his problem was and his pole, a telescopic pole, was coming apart and not snapping in properly, so we finally got it so it was actually functioning properly. I started thinking after if we hadn't fixed it and (Rouleau) was pulling on that pole and it pulled out, it would have been a worse situation. All the stars aligned for us and for him."

Rouleau could not be reached for comment. He told ATV news he would be forever grateful to the men he called heroes.

Geographic location: Baddeck, Uisge Ban Falls

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  • Sandy Graham
    January 15, 2014 - 09:19

    A compelling story. A beautiful ending. How thin the line of fate (“all the stars aligned for us and for him”) that separates tragedy from those experiences in our lives where we “can laugh now.” I think of the shenanigans that my brothers and I were up to in our youth, the trees we climbed, the cliffs we scaled, the beguiling waters that summoned us. I would later teach outdoor education and recreation to adolescents (including my sons), as well as safety. We had fun, but I’ve also learned at least two things: We were lucky, and life is precious. I think young Julian Rouleau would agree. Sandy Graham Parrsboro, Nova Scotia