A Kelowna woman was given the second highest bravery award in Canada this week while 11 other members of the public were honoured by the Royal Canadian Humane Association for heroic efforts to try and save the life of a woman whose vehicle plunged into the frigid waters of Wood Lake in Dec. 2012.
Cindy Rogers was awarded the silver medal for bravery, the highest award out of 12 residents who put their lives on the line to try and rescue the woman, who succumbed to injuries suffered when her jeep left the old Highway 97 next to Wood Lake and was submerged in about two metres of water.
When she arrived on the scene of the accident, Rogers’ actions were immediate.
“I just thought if someone is in the car I have got to get them out,” said Rogers after returning to Kelowna from the ceremony on Tuesday. “It was as simple as that. This (honour) is very, very humbling. I can’t believe I’m being held in such high regard. I just think it’s what everyone would do. Faced with that situation again, I would do the same thing.”
After repeated attempts to get the woman out, Rogers began suffering from severe hypothermia and had to be helped from the water by friend and co-worker Corstiaan Pannekoekk, who was awarded a honourary certificate for his efforts on that night.
But it was Rogers who received the highest award of those who tried to help that night.
“Cindy Rogers’ efforts stand out,” said Ruddy Berghuys, the president of the Royal Canadian Humane Association. “She dove into the freezing lake and attempted to open the jeep’s door. She tried numerous times and finally managed to break a window but she couldn’t find the woman. Despite hypothermia, she attempted to tie a rope around the vehicle. After 15 minutes she was suffering from severe hypothermia and a severe asthma attack.”
Six people were honoured with bronze medals for their efforts that night as they entered Wood Lake to try and save the woman while five others were given honourary certificates as they stayed on shore and helped the first responders.
Lake Country RCMP corporal Michael Loerke and constable Carl Stene, along with Lake Country deputy fire chief Brent Penner all entered the water once on the scene as they first tried to remove the woman before hooking ropes and chains to the jeep and towing it toward the shore.
All three, along with truck driver Jamie Andrews as well as residents Kevin Hiebert and Donald St. Pierre were honoured with bronze medals as they also entered the lake.
“A group of passing motorists stopped and attempted to get at the submerged vehicle by entering the lake,” said Berghuys. “The rescuers attached a rope to an 18-wheeler and the jeep was almost pulled out of the water when the rope broke and it slid back in.”
Pannekoek was among a group of people who stayed on the shore and helped the rescuers who entered the lake, all of which suffered some form of hypothermia.
The woman was eventually removed from her vehicle but after twenty minutes underwater, attempts to resuscitate her failed and she passed away at the scene.
All 12 people were honoured at a ceremony this week in Surrey as Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia presented the B.C. bravery awards at an Investiture Ceremony at RCMP Headquarters.
More than 30 people in all were honoured for different heroic feats and Rogers says the ceremony added some closure to a difficult chapter in her life.
“It took me a year to be able to start talking about what happened and I’m still not over it,” she said. “It was good to hear all these stories from the ceremony. It’s a good reminder that there are good people out there and it gives me hope that if I was ever in the same situation, there would be people fighting to save my life.”