Three Hay Riverites have been recognized by the Royal Lifesaving Society of Alberta and the NWT in recognition of their quick thinking and bravery, which helped them save the lives of three teenage girls last summer. Jordan Groenewegen, Lucie Benoit and her son R.J. were awarded commendation citations by the Alberta Lieutenant Governor Donald S. Ethell at a ceremony in Edmonton.
The citations are awarded to people who are deserving of recognition for a humanitarian act, according to the society.
July 29, 2011 is a day the local trio won’t soon forget. The waters were particularly choppy that day, on account of strong winds, and three teenage girls drifted away from the shore at Hay River Beach. The girls were in town with their parents for a slo-pitch tournament.
When they disappeared, a concerned mother alerted campground manager Lucie Benoit, who could not spot them with her camera lens. She went to Jordan Groenewegen for help, who lives nearby: with the use of his high-powered binoculars, he was able to locate the distressed girls in the distance.
“It was so windy even the fishermen didn’t go out that day,” Lucie said.
Lucie managed to contact her son R.J., who happened to be testing a riverboat on Great Slake Lake that day.
“When I’m on the boat I’m not thinking about my phone,” R.J. said.
“But that day I just happened to pick it up, and I heard my mom screaming at me,” he said.
Jordan and Lucie were able to guide R.J. to the girls’ location, despite the rough waters. The girls were close to three kilometers from shore when R.J. found them, shivering and crying. Clinging to a deflated floatation toy, they had been in the water for almost two hours and were calling for help.
R.J. managed to pull them aboard his boat and bring them back to shore.
He says he thinks about that day often.
“Every time I’m in my boat,” he said.
“It’s paid off for itself by now. It’s worth every penny.”
His mother Lucie is reminded whenever she goes to the beach.
“When I’m there I look at Jordan’s house and I thank God he was there that day with his binoculars,” she said.
The trio said they enjoyed receiving their citations, adding that the lavish and elaborate ceremony was a real eye-opener.
“I was super impressed,” R.J. said.
“There were bagpipes, the RCMP, it was very formal and we had to bow and everything. I had to buy my first suit!” he said.
In all, seven people were awarded citations for their acts of bravery.
“We got to meet and speak to the lieutenant governor at a reception afterward and he was awesome,” Lucie said.
“We also received a beautiful letter from the Town of Hay River, which was presented to us at the ceremony.”
Hay River North MLA Robert Bouchard made a Member’s Statement at the Legislative Assembly, in recognition of their citations.
“The sequence and timing of the event that unfolded on this summer evening was nothing but miraculous,” he said.
“Please join me today in thanking the Royal Lifesaving Society of Alberta and the NWT for the valuable work they do, and the three Hay Riverites who were in the right place at the exact right time to contribute to this happy story and the safe ending of this story.”
— Myles Dolphin