Man drowns trying to save daughter
JUSTIN CHIDLEY/THE CANADIAN PRESS
OPP officers and members of the public work to pull a man from just below the Bala Falls. One man is dead and another is in hospital. (Aug. 5, 2009) Nine-year-old survives ordeal that also leaves her uncle clinging to life in hospital
August 06, 2009
BALA, Ont.–Sixteen-year-old Alex Atkin was on a lunch break from his summer job at Purk's Place, selling bait and renting boats, when he saw a man rip off his shirt and shoes and run into the water.
Moments later, Atkin saw him "struggling. It looked like he was being pulled in by the undercurrent," the teenager said last night standing by the water's edge.
The man had leapt in after a 9-year-old girl was seen drifting in her life jacket away from shore. The girl managed to survive but later rescuers pulled two men from the choppy basin of Bala Falls, one dead and one barely alive.
Atkin later could see a woman sitting on the rocks weeping. Last night he pointed to that spot where a white cross with a life buoy attached sat jammed into the rocks.
Real estate agent Ghulam Badar, 53, of Mississauga, remains on life support today in Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie. His brother, Nadim Shah, who was visiting from Hanover, Ill., died. Shah, 44, and Badar had gone into the water to rescue Shah's daughter.
Atkin has been swimming near the falls since he was 5 but "wouldn't dream of it this summer."
"The current is never like this. It's highly unusual." The teen said there should be signs warning people of the dangers.
Bill Purkis owns Purk's store and was inside when firefighters came running over and asked to borrow a couple of his 14-foot aluminium boats as well as oars and life jackets.
Purkis has been in the area for 60 years and recalls only one other drowning about 15 years ago. "People by the thousands swim there."
He blamed the eddy from the dam, "which is usually a trickle." The Ministry of Natural Resources has opened the dam because of high water levels, he said, and "that's caused a huge torrent of rushing water.
"The same water that caused this death here caused those three deaths down the river ," he said, referring to Moon River Falls, where seven friends jumped into fast-moving water on Sunday and three drowned.
Badar and Shah dove into the water around 2 p.m. yesterday when the girl, who was wearing a life jacket, started drifting away from shore, Ontario Provincial Police said.
The victims got caught in a strong whirlpool and disappeared in the water, Muskoka Lakes Fire Chief Jim Sawkins said.
When emergency crews arrived, the girl was already safely ashore.
"It's my understanding she was rescued, but I don't yet know how," said OPP Const. Peter Leon.
At the scene, a group of firefighters and two OPP officers commandeered two boats and rushed into the water.
They found Badar after about 10 minutes.
He was airlifted to Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie "and is in critical condition in intensive care," hospital spokesperson Suzanne Legue said last night.
Family members are keeping a vigil at the hospital, where a hospital spokeswoman said this afternoon that they are too distraught to talk.
"He's a very sweet man," said Anissa Ho, a manager at Right At Home Realty, where Badar worked.
Shah was submerged for about 30 minutes, Sawkins said, describing the officers' work as "nothing short of heroic.
"They got to those men as quickly as possible."
Paramedics performed CPR on the shore.
The men had no vital signs and were pronounced dead, but Badar was revived at hospital.
"This has been a tragic week in Ontario's cottage country," said OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino.
With files from Danielle Wong and Gail Swainson