Hiker and her hero recount scary rescue from icy river in Jasper National Park

·3 min read
Katelyn Jones, who fell into the Maligne River, poses with Phil James, who came to her rescue. (Submitted by Katelyn Jones - image credit)
Katelyn Jones, who fell into the Maligne River, poses with Phil James, who came to her rescue. (Submitted by Katelyn Jones - image credit)

A 21-year-old Alberta woman says she thought she was going to die when she fell into the icy river that runs through Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park.

The 38-year-old Alberta man who reached in to save her says he was only in the right place at the right time.

Now, Katelyn Jones and Phil James are becoming friends as they share their recollections of the ordeal.

On July 3, the ice-cold Maligne River almost claimed Jones's life.

She had travelled from her home in Irma, Alta., to visit the park with her friend Paige Leffingwell when they decided to go for a hike in Maligne Canyon.

Jones stood atop a rock near the bank of the river to take a photo when the unthinkable occurred.

"My foot slipped out from under me and it all just happened so fast," she said.

"My back went down the rock and then my feet were in the water but the current was so strong that by the time my legs were in there I couldn't hold myself."

In seconds, Jones was swept into the fast-moving river.

'My head kept going under'

Her waterlogged backpack weighed her down as she struggled to keep her head above water.

"I was trying to get my arms out of my backpack so I could swim better but I couldn't because my head kept going under every time I did that," she said.

Jones's voice cracked and her eyes teared up as she recalled those frantic moments.

"Ahead there was a rock wall and I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, this is how I'm going to die,' and it was terrifying."

Then through the swirling, freezing water, a glimmer of hope.

"I looked to the side bank and I could see two people walking," Jones said. "I could barely see them and I just remember yelling, 'Help.'"

Submitted by Phil James
Submitted by Phil James

James, from Calahoo, Alta., was in Jasper for a getaway with his wife Sheena and their two kids when rest and relaxation were suddenly wiped from their agenda.

He was about to take a picture when he heard the cry for help.

"I just ran down to the bank where I was going to take the photo from, and happened to grab on to Kate who was coming by," he said.

"I just said, 'I won't let you go.'"

With help from his wife, James pulled Jones to safety after she released her grip on a rock she was clinging to.

'She was in a bad situation'

James doesn't see himself as a hero. He said he was just acting on instinct.

"I was literally going down to where I grabbed her to do exactly what she was doing, which was take a picture," he said. "She was in a bad situation and she needed help."

The ordeal has had an emotional impact on James, who choked up as relived it.

"It makes you stop and think, 'That could have been me,'" he said.

"It happens that fast and it could happen to anybody and that's the message we want to send."

Submitted by Katelyn Jones
Submitted by Katelyn Jones

Jones and James decided to share their story in the hope they can help someone else avoid a similar fate, or worse.

In a post that has gone viral on Facebook, Jones thanked James for saving her.

People commenting have had nothing but praise for James, calling him a hero and an angel.

"I'm not that, I'm just a guy that was in the right place at the right time," he said.

The incident served as quite the icebreaker.

Once they all caught their breath, they introduced themselves and Jones got a photo with James.

They have since connected on social media and have spoken on the phone — a new friendship despite its rocky start.

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