After saving a mother and toddler who nearly drowned in Lost Lake, resident Erin Marof wants the swimming area roped off to keep visitors away from what she is calling a dangerous sudden drop-off zone in the lake.
What is particularly harrowing for her is that this is the third time since 2009 that she has witnessed drownings or near drownings in Lost Lake, located near Whistler Village.
In the most recent incident, on Sunday, July 29, Marof and a friend came to the aid of the woman, who lost her footing while holding the child. The woman swallowed water as she struggled to keep herself and the youngster from sliding into deeper water.
"That day my friend and I went to Lost Lake for a quick swim because it was so hot. We got to the dock outside the swimming area and slowed down, and were floating and resting, and I saw this mom," Marof recalled.
"She was walking with her baby in her arms and I was floating around, talking with my friend, and all of a sudden you could see that she was losing her footing. She didn't realize how deep it got, and all of a sudden I saw her head go under. The baby was in her arms, too, she was losing her footing and she couldn't let go of the baby to pull herself in with her arms, so she was trying to use her feet to pull herself in."
Marof – a former lifeguard – was shocked by what she saw and was the first to act.
"It was freaky. I saw that this was not right, that she was drowning. She was holding the kid over her head and breathing water in," she said.
"I swam to her and pulled her up by her hair and bathing suit and said 'give me your child now!' and I grabbed the baby, and I was exhausted because I had just swum the lake. I was holding the toddler, treading water, and pulling the woman up by her pony-tail, to keep her head up."
Marof's friend realized what was happening and swam over to help, and together they got the pair to safety.
"Honestly, we only needed to move four feet in to be able to touch the bottom. It just drops so quickly and people don't realize it. We got her to shore, sat her down. She was in complete shock. We should have probably taken her to the clinic, but she said 'I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine!'"
Marof did not get the woman's name but discovered she and the toddler were alone and she was not a Whistler resident.
"We put blankets on her. I was in tears. If I had not been there, they would have both drowned, because everyone else around her was oblivious... she sat there shaking. I couldn't breathe," she said.
"It completely freaked me out. A little while later we were leaving (Lost Lake) and so was she at the same time, and she was holding her kid, crying. She was completely hysterical. She kept saying, 'Thank you! Thank you!'"
Two other incidents, which she became involved in at Lost Lake, also haunt Marof.
Two summers ago, she was at the lake with her children when she saw a Korean man get into trouble while playing football or Frisbee in the water.
"He kept walking deeper and deeper and it drops off there. I guess he wasn't touching and he couldn't swim. He went right under," she said.
"I looked over and realized he wasn't swimming and what he did was he tried to gasp for air and got water in his lungs. I swam over immediately and screamed for help, and pulled him to shore."
Luckily for the visitor there was a doctor at the beach, who called 911.
"By the time I got him to shore I was out of breath, he was probably 220 lbs., he was a big guy. Another lady helped me, we rolled him over and he threw up. Everyone came, fire trucks and they took him away in an ambulance," she said.
Then Marof was at Lost Lake on Aug. 19, 2009, when 23-year-old Korean student Gil Hyeon-Kyung drowned. She did not witness the drowning but tried to help his frantic friends.
"I was at the beach that day and there were these young kids, and they were yelling 'Can't find our friend! Can't find our friend!' and ran out looking for him and asked them 'Are you sure?' His shoes were there and his keys were there. We swam, brought our dingy out looking for him. We couldn't find him," she said.
Gil's body was recovered by RCMP divers the next morning.
His death was the second fatal drowning at Lost Lake that summer. Nishil Ajudia, a 24-year-old Washington State man, died after getting into difficulties while swimming with a friend in July 2009.
After three harrowing experiences, Marof wants action as she believes there have been many more incidents at Lost Lake.
"This was the third time this has happened to me. It's not normal. This must happen all the time, I am sure," she said
"They should put a rope across it or anything to warn people better that this is a marker. People have no idea, and that's what happened to that Korean man I helped."
There was one drop-off warning sign near the beach, which Marof said she had never before noticed when meeting to have her photo taken for this story.
"And I've been coming here for years!" she said.
"I don't know if there is more people or not, but there's got to be a rope across... why have they not done this? This is muni land and the park, they have markers for the swimming area at Rainbow (Park), why don't they have something at Lost Lake?
There is no lifeguard at either location.
"I would like to see something done, either a lifeguard there or a rope up warning people – a four-foot marker telling people there is a drop off."
In response, Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said there was a rescue life ring available on the first floating wharf at Lost Lake and said there were other large warning signs indicating cold water, no diving, that there are currents, and no lifeguards are on duty at Lost Lake.
"That wording (on the signs) is suggested by the BC Lifesaving Society, so short of actually having a lifeguard on duty, I think we've done what we can do," Wilhelm-Morden said.
The mayor noted the roped off area at Rainbow Park and added there was one at Lakeside Park, too. She said she hoped municipal staff would meet Marof to discuss her experiences.
"Lost Lake, it's been a few years since I've swum in that lake, but I don't recall there being a steep drop off," Wilhelm-Morden said. "It is something that we... I'm not sure what we do in terms of determining where we put swim zones and where we don't, but it may be something that we could have our staff have another look at."
"Certainly, I have not heard of these concerns yet. And (Marof) certain ought to send us an email or a letter or something, bringing it further to our attention exactly where it is on the lake and then we can send someone out there to have a look."
Meanwhile, the BC Coroners Service has warned that greater caution is needed in British Columbia's lakes, rivers and Pacific coastline following a "significant increase" in recreational drownings.
Thirty-four people drowned in recreational incidents between July 1 and Aug. 21, an increase of nearly 50 per cent over 2011 numbers for the whole of July and August, when 24 people drowned.
There have been two drownings in the Sea to Sky region so far this summer.
Twenty-six-year-old Ben Trompetter of White Rock died while cliff jumping from approximately 30 to 39 metres at Anderson Lake, north of Pemberton.
Seattle parasailer John Clifford, 55, died while taking part in the Canadian Paragliding championships. Witnesses say he was dragged into the Lillooet River by his parachute after attempting a landing to avoid a thunderstorm in the area.
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