Lark Harbour man honoured with bravery award for icy, cliff-side rescue

·3 min read
Troy Turner/CBC
Troy Turner/CBC

Clung to the side of a craggy cliff in winter, nothing but a small rock keeping him from falling about 100 feet to the water, John Parsons contemplated life.

He thought of family, of never seeing his grandchildren again, of these moments being his last alive after a terrifying slip.

His friend Ralph Joyce had a different plan, however; one that involved a dead tree, some quick thinking and hoisting his friend to safety to save his life.

This week Joyce is being honoured with a bravery award from the lieutenant-governor for that act of heroism at Bottle Cove in Lark Harbour on Feb. 7, 2019.

Troy Turner/CBC
Troy Turner/CBC

Joyce is a humble man. He's quiet and shy. Emotions take over when reliving that day.

He's also appreciative of the kind words being hurled his way, and to be honoured for saving his friend.

"Glad that I was there to save him and that it happened at the right time I guess," he said during a presentation of the medal and plaque by MHA Eddie Joyce.

That cold day in February began when Parsons spotted a seal on the ice from his house just up from the beach. He grabbed his camera and started toward the point. He just happened to see Joyce near the area parking lot and the two hiked to the point together.

There was a mild patch of weather leading up to that day and grass was visible on the point overlooking the craggy, 100-foot cliffs of the point.

When Parsons ventured out a little past the grass for a better look, trouble struck.

"My feet came out from under me, I went on my back. And I was on my back sliding down, down over the cliff into the water on the ice," Parsons said. "About two feet from the edge, there was a small rock sticking out. And that rock held up against my foot on the left side — my boot — and I was there on my back. And Ralph was standing there and he said, 'My God, don't move, don't move."'

Troy Turner/CBC
Troy Turner/CBC

Joyce left the cliff to go find help. As he ran through the trails he realized there may not be time to get to his vehicle in the parking lot. Instead, he freed a dead tree from the icy ground and headed back to Parsons. Out of breath, he stopped quickly to rest. However, the thought of having to go to Parsons' house and tell his wife that he had fallen over the cliff made him trudge on. He was relieved when he saw Parsons was still there.

"As he was pulling me up, when my foot came off the rock that was a scary moment because there was nothing to hold me," Parsons said. "If the tree broke or Ralph couldn't hold me or didn't have the strength I was probably gone. So as he was pulling me up, I said 'Ralph, please don't let me go.' And he said to me, 'Don't worry buddy, I got ya. I got ya.'"

Joyce, a much smaller man than Parsons, pulled him from the edge of that embankment.

The gratitude is endless, Parsons said.

Troy Turner/CBC
Troy Turner/CBC

"It's absolutely wonderful to know that his bravery on that day and his courage and his strength literally saved my life," he said. "I just don't know how to thank the man for it other than to live the best life I can and maybe help someone down the road at some point in time."

Parsons still likes to hike and cross-country ski. He said he's made his wife a promise that he would be tethered if venturing out into that same area on icy days, but little else has changed.

"I don't think about it too much.… It's part of my life, the outdoors," he said. "The only problem now with COVID-19, I can't hug (Joyce).… We're connected and we will be connected for the rest of our lives because of what happened that day."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador