SAVED FROM DROWN­ING

North Syd­ney teen saved his best friend’s life.

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JEREMY FRASER jeremy.fraser@cb­post.com Twit­ter: @CBPost_Jeremy

Gar­rett Whit­tle and Matthew Wil­liams have been friends for many years, but af­ter a scary in­ci­dent in 2016 their friend­ship has only grown stronger.

The North Syd­ney boys had just fin­ished their fi­nal Grade 10 exam at Me­mo­rial High School in Syd­ney Mines, and de­cided to spend the June 23 even­ing swim­ming.

The teenagers, along with two other friends, went to the Ge­orges River bridge, a pop­u­lar lo­ca­tion on Long Is­land Road where swim­mers are known to jump off the struc­ture and into the Ge­orges River In­let.

Whit­tle, 16 at the time, had jumped off the bridge and was swim­ming to the shore­line around 7 p.m. that even­ing. Mean­while, Wil­liams, 15, fol­lowed by do­ing a front flip off the bridge, smash­ing heav­ily into the wa­ter on his stom­ach.

At the time, the other boys thought noth­ing of it, un­til they re­al­ized Wil­liams wasn’t resur­fac­ing.

“The guy on the top of the bridge kept telling us that he (Matthew) wasn’t com­ing back up and that he was still sink­ing,” said Whit­tle. “As soon as he said that I knew that I had to save him.”

The im­pact of the wa­ter had knocked the wind out of Wil­liams, who had passed out and be­gan sink­ing 25-feet un­der wa­ter.

For­tu­nately for Wil­liams, Whit­tle had suc­cess­fully com­pleted his stan­dard first aid and na­tional life­guard cour­ses in April 2016 and knew what he had to do.

“I was knee-deep in wa­ter at the time it hap­pened, so I swam out and dove down un­der the wa­ter and pulled him up and dragged him back to the shore­line,” said Whit­tle.

Once back on shore, Whit­tle told his other friend to call 911 for help. He pro­ceeded to treat Wil­liams for shock and kept him calm.

First re­spon­ders ar­rived a short time later and Wil­liams was trans­ported to the Cape Breton Re­gional Hos­pi­tal in Syd­ney by am­bu­lance. He spent two days in the fa­cil­ity with a con­cus­sion and wa­ter in his lungs.

“I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber much that hap­pened, I re­mem­ber jump­ing off the bridge and then slightly re­mem­ber com­ing up out of the wa­ter, (but) that’s it,” said Wil­liams, who played for the Me­mo­rial Ma­raud­ers hockey team this sea­son.

“If it wasn’t for him (Whit­tle), no­body else would have been able to help me — I’m lucky that he did be­cause I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for him.”

For his heroic ef­fort that day, Whit­tle was given the M.G. Grif­fith Award by the Life­sav­ing So­ci­ety of Nova Sco­tia.

The award, in honour of M.G. Grif­fiths, a pi­o­neer in the Royal Life Sav­ing So­ci­ety, is given to a per­son within the so­ci­ety that ap­plies skill and knowl­edge gained through life­sav­ing so­ci­ety pro­grams to aid a vic­tim in a lifethreat­en­ing emer­gency.

Whit­tle, a life­guard and su­per­vi­sor

at the North­side Com­mu­nity Pool, was pre­sented the award by Nova Sco­tia Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor Arthur J. LeBlanc dur­ing the so­ci­ety’s Com­mon­wealth cer­e­mony on March 29 in Hal­i­fax, with fam­ily and friends, in­clud­ing Wil­liams, in at­ten­dance.

“It was an honour to re­ceive the award, it was a re­ally cool ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Whit­tle, sit­ting at his kitchen ta­ble on Satur­day. “It was an un­ex­pected award, it was a cou­ple of years af­ter the in­ci­dent, but I’m glad I was cho­sen.”

Wil­liams’ mother nom­i­nated Whit­tle for the award. As part of the process, Whit­tle was asked to write a short story, ex­plain­ing the ter­ri­fy­ing or­deal.

“I im­me­di­ately thought it was

a good idea,” said Wil­liams of the nom­i­na­tion. “I had re­ally hoped that he would re­ceive the award – he saved my life.”

Today, Whit­tle is 18 years old, and Wil­liams is 17 years old. Both boys are in Grade 12 and will grad­u­ate from Me­mo­rial High School this year.

Wil­liams said they still talk about the in­ci­dent ev­ery now and then, but it’s not some­thing they think of of­ten.

“When we talk about it now we usu­ally just joke around about it,” he said. “At the time it wasn’t re­ally a joke, it was pretty se­ri­ous.”

The in­ci­dent hasn’t stopped the boys from go­ing to the Ge­orges River bridge.

“We were there a few times since then, (but) we weren’t re­ally go­ing there all the time any­way,” said Wil­liams. “I’m not re­ally ner­vous to go back there, but I prob­a­bly won’t do any flips into the wa­ter any­more.”

With the sum­mer sea­son just around the cor­ner, many Cape Bre­ton­ers will spend their days at beaches, rivers and lakes across the is­land.

Whit­tle has a mes­sage for those plan­ning to ven­ture into the wa­ter.

“Wa­ter is more dan­ger­ous than you think and you have to be very care­ful around it when you’re hav­ing fun or play­ing,” he said.

As for the boys, Whit­tle be­lieves the in­ci­dent has brought the friends closer to­gether and will be some­thing both re­mem­ber for the rest of their lives.

“We were close friends any­way at the time, but I guess it has been some­thing that has made our friend­ship stronger,” said Whit­tle.

JEREMY FRASER/CAPE BRETON POST

Gar­rett Whit­tle, left, and Matthew Wil­liams are shown sit­ting at Whit­tle’s kitchen ta­ble Satur­day morn­ing. Whit­tle was given the M.G. Grif­fiths Award by the Life­sav­ing So­ci­ety of Nova Sco­tia on March 29. The award was in recog­ni­tion of Whit­tle sav­ing Wil­liams, his best friend for many years, from drown­ing in June 2016.

PHOTO SUB­MIT­TED/ANITA WHIT­TLE

Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor of Nova Sco­tia Arthur J. LeBlanc, left, presents the M.G. Grif­fiths Award to Gar­rett Whit­tle dur­ing the Life­sav­ing So­ci­ety of Nova Sco­tia’s com­mon­wealth awards cer­e­mony on March 29 in Hal­i­fax. Whit­tle, a North Syd­ney na­tive, was given the award for sav­ing the life of his close friend, Matthew Wil­liams, in June 2016.

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