Caitlan Okrainec thought she said her last prayer Sunday as she fought to keep her head above water in Lake Winnipeg.
Minutes earlier she had been floating on a queen-size air mattress with her pregnant cousin near Patricia Beach. But when a gust of wind pushed them out further and eventually pulled the mattress out from under them, they were struggling for their lives.
“I didn’t see help coming,” said an emotional Okrainec during an interview with CTV Winnipeg. “I said my last prayer.”
As the pair continued to swim for shore they quickly grew tired and lost hope. But with the shoreline still a distance away, they called for help, Okrainec’s cousin letting out what she called a “blood-curdling scream.” Okrainec guesses they swam for about 10 long minutes.
“I didn’t think I was prepared to die,” said Okrainec.
Thankfully, Brad Leitch was playing Frisbee with his wife Adrienne and another couple near the shoreline when they heard the cries for help.
“When we stopped and we all listened, we heard ‘Help!’” recalled Leitch. They immediately dialed 911 and the group of four ran into the water.
“We just started swimming out to them and screaming back for help as we were going out,” said Adrienne, guessing she swam for about 10 minutes before reaching the pregnant woman. Their friend Garret swam out to reach Caitlan. They all made it back safely, but shaken.
“I just think of the what-ifs. I’m still pretty emotional about that,” said Adrienne through tears.
The use of inflatables on the water is not advised in windy weather, a Lifesaving Society rep told CTV. People need to exercise caution, particularly when there is offshore wind at play.
“Please don’t. It’s not the right time for that,” said Kevin Tordiffe, operations manager with the Manitoba branch of the Lifesaving Society.
The rescuers and survivors, who took a selfie after the rescue, are still in touch today and have plans to meet up again. Rescuer Leitch said their efforts were for more than Okrainec and her cousin.
“There’s three of them actually,” said Leitch, referring to the unborn child. “That’s the feeling of hope we have right now, that they’re alive, they’re OK, and pretty soon they’re going to welcome a little one in the world.”
With a report from CTV Winnipeg’s Josh Crabb