Heroic N.L. duo wins rescuer award for saving a girl at the beach

A little girl was blown away on an inflatable raft at Broad Cove Beach last August. Two bystanders are now receiving an award for rescuing her. (Submitted by Chris MacNaughton - image credit)
A little girl was blown away on an inflatable raft at Broad Cove Beach last August. Two bystanders are now receiving an award for rescuing her. (Submitted by Chris MacNaughton - image credit)

A Newfoundland duo has received an award for their heroic rescue of a child last summer.

Barbara Watson of Small Point-Adams Cove met up with friends Tim Hayes and his sister at the beach one day last August.

A few minutes after arriving, she heard screaming.

"We went over to her, and she pointed out to a raft that was quite far away and said that it was her granddaughter on the raft," she recalled.

"And later we found out that her granddaughter's name was Kenzie, and I think she was six years old. I could barely tell that it was a child on the raft. That's how far away she was."

The girl's father and grandfather were in the water, and at first, Watson thought she would swim out to help. But the raft was moving fast, and she knew wouldn't be able to catch up.

Instead, she and Hayes hopped on Hayes's ATV and drove down the beach.

A rocky descent 

The wind was blowing Kenzie and her raft toward a rocky inlet by the mouth of the ocean.

As they headed down the embankment, "our shoes just broke because there was just rocks along the way," Watson said. "And I later realized there were a lot of nettles because my legs were covered in them. That was my first introduction to nettles in Newfoundland."

She said at this point, Kenzie had travelled over 300 metres from her family.

Submitted by Chris MacNaughton
Submitted by Chris MacNaughton

"The wind was blowing her such that she was coming closer and closer to the rocks, so by the time we got to her, she was just at the edge of a little shadow right before she reached the mouth of the ocean," she said.

"So Tim and I were able to rescue her from that jut-out."

When they got her, Kenzie was hysterical. And Watson started the bare-foot trek up the rocky embankment. Tim stayed to help the father and grandfather get back to shore safely.

By this time, more people had arrived to help. Community members, the Canadian Coast Guard, the ambulance, the Fire Department, and the RCMP all lined the beach.

"I think it was just all the community members who had formed a human chain coming down the embankment," she said.

"So by the time I got back across the rocks, I passed Mackenzie up to the last person on this human chain and then they, in turn, passed Mackenzie up to the top where her mother was and her grandmother."

Watson said she doesn't even remember being helped up the hill herself because of the adrenaline rush.

"All I could think about was saving her life. Tim and I were 100-per-cent focused on saving this girl's life. There was nothing else that we could think of."

A familiar fear

Watson knows intimately the fear of losing a child, and she said that was playing on her mind as she helped Kenzie.

"Unfortunately, years ago I lost my son at Sick Kids in Toronto, so I was very familiar with the pain of losing a child."

"Obviously I did not want to see anything happen to anyone else's child and I think that was just really in the forefront of my mind, is I just don't want this little girl to die."

Her son's name was Tyler.

"I did talk to the grandma a little bit," Watson remembered. "And she also was just traumatized and she had told me that almost a year to the day earlier, she had lost her son by drowning."

Submitted by Chris MacNaughton
Submitted by Chris MacNaughton

Chris MacNaughton owns a cabin close to the beach and saw all of this happen. Because of what Watson and Hayes did, Chris nominated them for the Canadian Red Cross Rescuer Award.

The award "acknowledges the efforts of non-professional rescuers and off-duty first responders who go out of their way to save a life, prevent further injury and/or provide comfort to the injured."

Watson owned her own safety training company in Ontario. Now she's started a fundraiser to help pay for safety equipment on the beach, such as buoys, rope, poles, and signage, in an effort to remind people how dangerous the ocean can be.

Despite being on the beach that day, Watson and Hayes have not been able to connect with Kenzie or her family, however.

"All I know is someone told me the little girl's name was Kenzie and that's all I know of the family. I think maybe they come from St. John's," she said.

"Unfortunately," she explained, "there just wasn't an opportunity at the time of the rescue because I think the parents were just so distraught and they ended up leaving the next day. So I never really had an opportunity to meet them."

The pair received the Red Cross Rescuer Award on Sunday.

Herself and Hayes being on that beach was "very much meant to be," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador