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'Game changer': Airboat fundraising halfway to $400,000 goal

Southern Georgian Bay Airboat Rescue group holding two fundraisers next month to raise funds for aparatus deemed essential in preventing ice-related deaths

Ongoing fundraising efforts to bring a rescue airboat to Georgian Bay to prevent future tragedies are hitting high gear.

“We have raised $200,000 and our goal is to raise $400,000,” Sharelle McArthur tells MidlandToday. “This rescue boat is going to be a game changer for Georgian Bay. This is going to rapidly improve our response times.”

The initiative spearheaded by Southern Georgian Bay Airboat Rescue kicked off about 16 months ago.

The group behind it is currently trying to win a $5,000 community contest sponsored by McDougall Insurance and Financial and also is collaborating with Tay firefighters on a car wash running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 3 in Waubaushene.

Then the following Saturday, there will be a ‘fire truck pull’ at Midland Honda. The evening event begins at 6 p.m. for registration followed an hour later by the pull. There will also be vendors and a disc jockey.

But everything associated with the airboat initiative began on a single winter's day in 2021 when three snowmobilers died in the waters around Midland. And with two of those sledders, a father and son, dying near her home in Victoria Harbour, Christina Wood knew she had to do something.

“Imagine a life hanging in the balance,” Wood says. “You hear ‘someone please help, call 911’. Chilling sounds of a voice calling for help in their final moments.”

In the scenario, Wood says the operator tells the person help is coming and to keep talking.

“Help arrives in record time but to your shock you see how they are equipped,” she says. “They have a rapidly deployed craft (RDC), which needs inflation and a spotlight that cannot pierce the darkness.

“This is how our firefighters must face Georgian Bay. One final faint cry of help is attempted. The RDC enters the water, but they are too late as they paddle out.”

Wood says it was this knowledge that moved her and others like McArthur to embark on their fundraising venture.

According to Wood, the airboat will be able to cut through broken ice while also navigating on top of ice and through open water making it the perfect solution to rescuing those who fall through the bay during the fall, winter and spring months.

With the help of her best friend, and one of the first responders on the scene of the accident, the Southern Georgian Bay Airboat Rescue committee was formed with a goal of saving lives and keeping local firefighters safe.

The committee, which also includes McArthur and the wife and mother of a father and son who died after falling through the ice, aims to raise funds to purchase an all-season rescue airboat for the area since no local municipalities or fire departments currently own one.

McArthur and others, including the wife and mother of a father and son who died, have now joined together to ensure that no one else loses their lives on Georgian Bay.

For Wood, it all started on January 17, 2021, when her husband Chris and their dog Tim were out for a walk.

Chris heard cries for help on the frozen waters of Sturgeon Point. Wood says she was at home when she heard her husband yell for her to dial 911 because someone had gone through the ice.

“I dialed 911, gave him the phone, and ran down to the water,” says Wood.

The accident happened a few hundred meters from her home in Victoria Harbour some time before 6:00 pm. She ran towards the voices, asked how many were in the water, and told them help was on the way.

“I felt helpless. It was completely dark. There were no stars. No moon. Nothing lighting up the sky. Open water. And, all I could hear were voices,” says Wood.

“It was snowing and windy,” she recalls of that night. “Our spotlights were bouncing off the snow. Firefighters were falling through the ice,” Wood recalls.

While the Tay Fire Department, and other first responders were quick on the scene, 49-year-old Jereld Bremner and 19-year-old Donny Bremner lost their lives when their snowmobiles went through the ice on Georgian Bay near Sturgeon Point.

That same afternoon, 40-year-old Bill Fournier went through the ice near Midland Point, leaving behind his partner and their six children.

What became clear to Wood in the aftermath of both the Bremners and Fournier going through the ice on Georgian Bay is that there is no all-season airboat rescue in the area.

Every year an average of 73 people die in snowmobile accidents in Canada.

And every snowmobile season, the OPP caution Ontario snowmobilers about excessive speed, the dangers of thin ice, and driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Still, 45 percent of all snowmobile fatalities occur on a frozen lake or river.

For more information about upcoming events or the initiative, check out the group's website.


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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country‚Äôs most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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