Unconscious woman rescued from Gorge Waterway remains in critical condition

An unidentified woman was fighting for her life in hospital Monday night after swimmers pulled her unconscious body from the Gorge Waterway below Banfield Park earlier in the day.

Robert McDowell, 42, and Melissa Thornton, 33, were swimming off a dock at the foot of Styles Street about 2 p.m. when they heard splashing nearby.

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“I thought it was a seal at first, because she had her sweater over her arm and it looked like a flipper,” McDowell said.

Eventually, he realized it was a man or a woman, but was uncertain at first whether the person was in trouble or simply swimming with their head down.

“We thought, well, maybe she’s a scuba diver, because people do that, right?” Thornton said.

But when the woman stopped moving, McDowell jumped in and pulled her to shore, while Thornton screamed for someone to call 911. She then ran to assist McDowell and the two managed to pull the woman onto the rocks.

“We just grabbed her, kind of tipped her up and upside down,” said Thornton.

The woman, who appeared to be in her 30s, threw up water and began gasping for air, but never regained consciousness, Thornton said.

The Victoria Fire Department, meanwhile, dispatched its high-speed fire boat, Protector. Firefighters provided first aid at the shoreline before moving the woman to the dock, where she was treated by paramedics from the B.C. Ambulance Service, said Peter Stephenson, acting battalion chief with the fire department.

The ambulance service transported the woman to Victoria General Hospital in serious condition. Her status was downgraded to critical by last night, the Vancouver Island Health Authority said. She remains the same today.

Stephenson said it’s unclear how the woman ended up in the water.

“Whether she had fallen, whether she had swum there, whether she was from one of the derelict vessels, I don’t know and nobody seems to know,” he said.

McDowell and Thornton suffered cuts to their hands and legs from barnacles while rescuing the woman, and were treated at the scene. But they were more worried about the woman they helped. “I really hope that she pulls through,” Thornton said.

lkines@timescolonist.com  

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