A local man jumped to the rescue when a vehicle’s brakes failed, sending it and its three occupants into the Skeena River from the parking lot at the Gitwangak Health Centre just before noon April 8.
Hugh Ormerod, a dental therapist at the health centre for 12 years, reacted after a co-worker, the home care nurse, saw the accident and told him and their colleagues.
Ormerod, who has paramedic EMT training, went down the embankment, which was about 10 or 15 feet of a drop from the parking lot, and found the older model two-door Ford Explorer SUV had slammed front end first into the rocks and flipped over onto its roof in the Skeena.
He saw the passenger, who had managed to get out of the car and was on the riverbank about 10 feet from the vehicle and was conscious and breathing fine.
Holly Harris, his co-worker, went over to the driver’s side where the driver was strapped into the seatbelt and couldn’t get out.
Ormerod saw a third person whose body was partway out of the vehicle.
“I noticed a set of legs hanging out of the side of the vehicle,” he said.
“I went into the water roughly knee deep and saw this person pinned between the back seat and the back head rest.”
He couldn’t get the person out but was able to work him free by lifting up the back seats and Harris came over to help remove the man and place him on the riverbank.
“He started breathing but then stopped. I couldn’t find a pulse so I started doing CPR on him,” said Ormerod.
The ambulance showed up and CPR was continued until the man was immobilized on a spine board, put into a rescue basket attached to a rope and lifted by five or six people to the ambulance.
“After that, I just went back down to look after the driver who was deemed as being the next worse off,” he said.
The driver was put on a spinal board and looked after until the air ambulance came.
“It was kind of a crazy situation but it was incredible how the community came together especially the first responders,” he said, adding they were “absolutely fantastic.”
The driver knew the car wasn’t working properly as she drove into the parking lot, said Ormerod.
“The driver told me she knew the brakes were failing. She told the other guys to jump from the vehicle, which explains why one person was less than 10 feet away,” he said.
“He actually jumped before the vehicle went over but the momentum carried him over. The gentleman in back tried to get out and couldn’t.”
Ormerod was glad he and Harris were there right away when the accident happened.
“By the time we were able to get the first person out of the vehicle was probably three or four minutes,” he said.
It was a good thing the home care nurse saw the accident happen because when he got to the embankment, he saw that the large drop would’ve made it difficult to notice the vehicle otherwise, he said.
“If somebody didn’t see it, who knows how long before anyone responded to it?” he said.
The Interior News in Smithers reported that a 20-year-old male was transported to Wrinch Memorial Hospital in Hazelton before being airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital with life-threatening injuries.
A 24-year-old woman, whose injuries were not life-threatening, was transported to Vancouver General Hospital via Terrace, and a 23-year-old man received treatment at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace.
All three people were related and from the Gitwangak community.
Hazelton RCMP is investigating the crash with assistance from officers from both the Terrace and Prince George RCMP traffic services sections.
With files from The Interior News in Smithers, B.C.