SAVED FROM DROWNING
North Sydney teen saved his best friend’s life.
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.
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.
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.