Haldimand County man saves stranger who drove into Hamilton Harbour waters

Shawn MacNeil was fishing with a longtime friend when an elderly man drove his car down Hamilton's Bayfront Park boat launch near them. MacNeil jumped into the water, pulled the man out and resuscitated him. (Wes Kassem - image credit)
Shawn MacNeil was fishing with a longtime friend when an elderly man drove his car down Hamilton's Bayfront Park boat launch near them. MacNeil jumped into the water, pulled the man out and resuscitated him. (Wes Kassem - image credit)

A 78-year-old man almost drowned after he drove down the boat launch at Bayfront Park around 9:30 p.m. ET Thursday, with his vehicle ending up in Hamilton Harbour.

Shawn MacNeil and Wes Kassem were fishing at Bayfront Park when they noticed the man's white car half-submerged in the water.

Hamilton police say MacNeil, who jumped in to rescue the man, is "a brave citizen" who "made every effort to rescue the driver," and the driver was "taken to hospital in non-life-threatening condition."

"We never really fish that spot," Kassem told CBC Hamilton.

"Honestly, that was a fishing trip I will never forget," MacNeil said.

Kassem said he didn't see the car drive down the boat launch, but he heard from others at the scene that the driver hit a curb and lost control of the car.

Kassem used his cellphone to record what followed.

WARNING: This video contains graphic language and images some may find distressing.

The rescue

In the video Kassem recorded, it took just over a minute for the interior of the car to become fully submerged. The driver managed to get his door open, but it is unclear why he was unable to leave the vehicle.

In under two minutes, Kassem and MacNeil realized one of them would have to pull the man out.

"Just seeing the air bubbles, we were like, 'Yeah, this guy is going to die right in front of us,'" Kassem told CBC Hamilton.

In the video, a panicked MacNeil said, "Someone's gotta go in. Oh my God, he's going to die," before stripping down to his long johns and jumping into the water.

MacNeil said that when he realized he had to rescue the man, his first thought was to make sure he had dry clothes to put on after, and to try to make it to the car in one jump.

"I thought I might make it, but I did not," he said.

MacNeil said he pulled the man out of the car and realized he wasn't breathing.

"I've seen [CPR] in the movies a couple of times, but I've never actually had any formal first-aid training, I just kind of knew chest compressions, blow into the mouth and hope for the best," he said.

WATCH | Shawn MacNeil jumps into freezing water to save man: 

In the video, MacNeil is heard screaming, "I need a f--king paramedic, man. I don't know what I'm doing here."

Despite having no formal CPR training, MacNeil said he was able to clear the man's airways and restart his breathing, saving his life.

He said there were "a lot of emotions going through my head at that moment, but mostly just relief," when he realized the man was breathing.

"That's when I started kind of freaking out," he said. "I seen the cops coming and I was like, 'Get over here as fast as possible and make sure he stays breathing.'"

MacNeil and a Hamilton police officer kept the man above water while they waited for a fishing boat driven by a Hamilton police sergeant to pull the man out of the water.

If you see someone in trouble, 'help them'

MacNeil said the fact he saved a man's life feels "surreal."

"I'm happy I was able to help him," he said, adding he hopes the man goes on to live a good life.

Kassem said he is "really proud" of his friend, and, "He did that for a random. I know he'll always have my back no matter what."

Kassem and MacNeil have been friends for many years, are from Haldimand County and work together at Kassem's appliance repair business.

MacNeil said for him, what's important is "if anyone sees someone in trouble, they help them."