December 20, 2012 - 8:58 PM
When Cindy Rogers saw the bizarre accident in front of her as she drove on Highway 97 North Wednesday, she had little thought for herself. A Jeep TJ started sliding on the road before veering to the right and plunging into freezing Wood Lake. As Rogers dove into the freezing water to rescue whoever she could, her focus wasn't on the peril she was putting herself in, she was thinking the person in the Jeep was someone special to someone else.
Today, Rogers knows the Salmon Arm driver was 58 years old—the same age as her own mother and that she died. Today, she wonders if she could have done more, if the decisions she made were the right ones.
"I ran down the embankment, and this man—I don't know his name so I call him 'suit guy'— he was in the water before I was," Rogers recalls. "I knew I was a strong swimmer, so I went in the water to try and feel around and look but it was so murky and dark."
She remembers seeing someone on the phone with 911 while another person was yelling for someone to grab a rock to try and break the window of the car. Rogers figured the rock would be useless and it was. Finally someone found a hammer and the job was done. Rogers stuck her arms through the broken window but knew that to enter the vehicle was risking hypothermia and drowning. Her arms were losing feeling already and would soon be useless.
"One of the guys was yelling from the shore that he wanted to put a rope around us and then tie it on the wheel," she says. "And now we have a vehicle fully loaded with water so I made sure the rope went around the wheel hub because we didn't want it slipping off."
She got out of the way in case the rope snapped. She looked at her feet in that moment and realized she couldn't feel them anymore and noticed her grip on the rope wasn't very strong.
"I remember standing there thinking I can't feel my hands and my legs won't move. A man came then and pushed me up the hill. People were jumping in to help me. To put blankets and coats on me."
One of the people on shore to help Rogers was her co-worker Corstiaan Pannekoek, who was riding in the car with her when the accident happened.
"He's the one who got me out of the water before it became dangerous for me," says Rogers.
As she stood on shore, she says she told Pannekoek about her cold feet.
"He put his boots on me and just picked me up on his back and took me to the vehicle and warmed me up," she says. "He was a hero to me in that moment."
Rogers is studying to become a commercial pilot, but has a full-time job at Bank of Montreal and works part-time as a photographer for the Kelowna Rockets.
Rockets spokesman Gavin Hamilton says he's not surprised to hear Rogers acted so heroically.
"That's the kind of girl she is," he told Infotel News.
Rogers wonders now if she made all the right decisions and can't fathom the concept of being a hero. She spent her morning talking with an RCMP social worker to help her sort through the information that seemed suspended in her mind and separate from emotions before the sun rose.
Some of her memories have gone dark now and she realizes they may come back someday when she least expects it. She described a surrealness in going home after the event to take a hot shower and wash away the dirt and muck and cold. To put on dry, clean clothes.
She recalls a moment where she was banging on the window of the Jeep to get the woman's attention, then realizing the front end of the SUV was underwater and yelling wouldn't be heard by the occupant. She described the sensation of time passing, knowing eventually, it might not matter. But she held onto hope, she says, especially when rescue workers arrived and took over.
Police jumped into the water, she says, using the same rope technique that at least six or seven motorists had attempted before the rope broke. Only this time, they had chains. And ambulance attendants were onshore, caring for everyone who needed it and waiting to help the woman in the Jeep.
She recently applied to the Canadian Air Force and suspects it's part of her character to serve, protect and help. Yesterday's test of her instincts has only cemented her commitment to join the forces.
"You always wonder how you'll react. I can walk away proud to have kept my wits about me," she says. "I'm glad I stepped up. It would have been far worse if I hadn't."
Rogers was saddened to learn the driver died, and wants the family to know their loved one was being looked after.
"I would love to send my condolences and tell the family I'm sorry I couldn't do more for their mom. I hope sharing this brings them some measure of solace."
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2012