Tom King had travelled the Miramichi River on his snowmobile countless times before. So he and his wife, Darcie Stewart-King, didn’t think much of making a journey up the river on Friday night.
The conditions looked good. There had been a few cold days and they were following the tracks of someone who had done it recently.
Now they are thankful to be alive after both plunged through the river surface in an icy dunking.
“Just as we’re heading up we got to an area and I looked and didn’t like the way it was looking,” King said. “And I veered over and the next thing my sled was bogging and bogging and it was going out from underneath me because it was floating. It actually dropped way below — gone.”
Snowmobile was submerged
King was in the water, surrounded by ice, with his snowmobile submerged.
“I was trying to get over to the ice and trying to get up onto the ice,” he said. “And it was breaking away from me and all I could do was kick in and think, ‘I got to get out of here.'”
He thought Darcie was safe, but worried she would try to come to his rescue. “So I was worried for her. And I was worried for our children.”
The King family on an outing with their snowmobiles.(Darcie Stewart-King)
King harnessed a final burst of energy and pulled himself out of the water and onto the ice. He pulled off his helmet and gloves and started calling for his wife. He hoped that she had veered off and that she wasn’t in the water.
“I looked around and I couldn’t see Darcie. I couldn’t see any light so then I started calling her name.”
He called her name four or five times before she answered. She was about 90 metres behind him, stuck in the water. He tried to dial 911 but his phone, either because of the water or the cold, wouldn’t work.
“So I was crawling out to her and and she kept saying, ‘Don’t come any closer. Don’t come any closer, our daughter needs one parent — at least there’s one of us,’ because up until this point, she thought I was dead.”
Stewart-King was able to get her arms onto the ice. When her husband got a little closer, she threw her phone to him.
Soon heard sirens
“I couldn’t access her phone because my fingers were so cold that I couldn’t access her code, but I was able to hit the emergency button and call 911.”
Soon, King said they started to hear sirens. Then, on the Chatham Head side of the Morrissy Bridge, they saw a light.
“The light started to get closer and then we just said, ‘No, don’t come closer, just get help.’ And when the light got closer she said, ‘I am the help.'”
Const. Julie O’Donnell had been in the area and arrived before the rest of the first responders.
“She’s a little smaller frame than I am … and she was able to get a hold of Darcie’s arms. And then I was able to get a hold of her and, between the two of us, we were able to pull Darcie out of the water.”
Police officers, firefighters and paramedics soon arrived and the couple was taken to hospital. Stewart-King was kept overnight as her core temperature was low. Now they’ve both been released.
King isn’t sure what exactly went wrong.
“Traditionally, there’s fast water underneath the Morrissy Bridge and maybe it was fast water that didn’t freeze. I was following another track going up, So and then I saw where things changed. The ice may have cracked, there could’ve been a high tide — anything could have happened,”
Conditions hard to predict
Scott Ralston, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, said this winter it has been particularly difficult to predict what conditions will be like off the trails.
“This year certainly has been a little different because we’ve had a couple of thaws and there’s been some some high water late in December and it certainly affects the safety of river crossings,” he said. “And, some areas of the province, actually the ice broke up and started to flow. So it certainly kind of plays havoc.”
Ralston said drivers should stick to the trails and marked crossings to ensure their safety.
What happened Friday night hasn’t affected King’s love for the sport. He said he would get on a snowmobile today if he had one.
“We just happened to be in a snowmobile accident — our lives didn’t end, they very well easily could have. But they didn’t. So life has to go on.”