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This ERT member saved a life

November 3, 2021

Local hero and Long Harbour Processing Plant technician and Emergency Response Team (ERT) member Nathan Snow is pictured on his first day at site after saving a life. Photo: Nathan Snow

“… We witnessed heroism in the district of Bonavista. Nathan Snow rushed to the aid of the Coles family in their time of need. Nathan’s quick thinking and bravery saved the day.” 

This special thank you was given to Nathan, Long Harbour Processing Plant technician and Emergency Response Team (ERT) member, from Craig Pardy, PC Member of the House of Assembly for Bonavista, on behalf of his constituents.

[Vale’s emergency response training] definitely helped my thinking during the situation.

When Nathan decided to spend the August 21 weekend with his dad, uncles and cousins at their family cabin in Sweet Bay, on the east coast of Newfoundland, he had no idea what was in store. On Saturday, Nathan was relaxing on the back deck chatting with his cousins when he saw a truck drive by with a boat in tow and thought nothing of it. Then, in a matter of moments, everything changed. 

A splash and a scream 

“My neighbour, who lives closer to the wharf, yelled over that he heard a splash and a scream,” recalled Nathan. 

“I jumped in my truck to go down and give him a hand, and when I got there, I didn’t see a truck, just the boat out in the water. But the nose of the boat was down into the water, still attached to the trailer. And a young boy, about three years old, was standing in the water about chest-deep. His grandfather was also chest-deep in the water, but much further out.”

Nathan didn’t waste any time leaping into action.

“I put my truck in park, ran over and pulled the boy out of the water and put him on shore, out of harm’s way. Then I went out to get the boy’s grandfather.”

It turned out the grandfather, Willis Coles, couldn’t swim. Willis motioned to Nathan to swim out toward the deeper water where his wife, Doris Coles, could barely be seen.

“You could just see the top of her nose and her feet sticking up out of the water. So I told Willis to move toward land, and I swam out for his wife. Before I got to her, I could see that her eyes were open but unresponsive, and bubbles were coming from her mouth.”

It was high tide, with a steep drop offshore to about 18 feet deep. When he got to Doris, Nathan could see the truck directly below but the water was too deep to stand on its roof. He lifted Doris’s head out of the cold water and swam with her back toward land. By the time Nathan had pulled Doris to shore, his cousin arrived with his truck, along with Nathan’s father and uncle. Nathan’s cousin helped bring Doris out of the water.

On shore Doris started coughing up water. “I put her on the tailgate of my truck on her side in the recovery position,” recalled Nathan. 

“I patted her on the back a couple times and she coughed out more water. After maybe 15 seconds or so, she took her first breath and then continued to spit out water and take breaths in between before she started to come around.”

How does it feel to save a life?

A crowd had begun to gather at the scene, including Doris’s sister, who took the Coles family back to her house to warm them up. Doris was still having trouble breathing so she was taken to hospital and later made a full recovery.

Nathan said it feels good to save a life, but it was stressful not knowing what kind of condition she was in after she left for the hospital. “I was pretty worried and freaked out,” said Nathan. “I didn’t sleep much that night. I don’t know how it would have gone had there been any delay getting to her, but I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I was happy that someone was able to help her.”

How it happened

The accident happened when the Coles tried to launch their boat. During the process, the truck – with Doris Coles and her grandchild still inside – began backing into the water. As the truck moved backward, Doris was able to think quickly, and pass her grandson out through the window to her husband, who was standing in chest-high water. She climbed from the window of the truck, which continued to move further out into the water, but the deep, cold water prevented her from reaching shore.

Safety mindset 

Nathan credits the training he’s had as part of the Long Harbour Emergency Response Team for his quick thinking and rapid response. 

“We’ve never done any specific training related to marine rescue, but I would definitely credit Paul Snow, and the other members of the team, for the learning atmosphere they create during training and using that mindset,” said Nathan. “It definitely helped my thinking during the situation.”

Our company’s obsession with safety also played a role. “I’ve been working at Vale now for just over six years, so I’m obviously influenced by our culture around safety.”

A few weeks after the rescue, Nathan was able to visit the Coles family to check in with them and they were happy to be able to thank him in person.

“It was nice. Mrs. Coles was hoping for some closure and certainly, it was nice on my end too, to speak with her and the whole family, and to see the little boy doing well. 

“But I know it was all pretty emotional for her and her family,” Nathan said, adding, “I’m just glad it all worked out the way it did, and that I was there to help.”

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