'I'm just really glad it didn't go the other way': Lone paddler rescues man from fast flowing Yukon River

·2 min read
Scott McDougall, the co-owner of Kanoe People in Whitehorse, rescued a man who was swept down the Yukon River Thursday. (Julien Gignac/CBC - image credit)
Scott McDougall, the co-owner of Kanoe People in Whitehorse, rescued a man who was swept down the Yukon River Thursday. (Julien Gignac/CBC - image credit)

It was just another average day in Whitehorse. Until it wasn't.

A man swept down the Yukon River in downtown Whitehorse Thursday was rescued. But it wasn't first responders who got the man safely to shore: it was a small business owner.

Scott McDougall, the co-owner of Kanoe People, said he was operating on sheer reflexes when it all went down.

"It feels great to know I was able to help him," he said, adding that a mere seconds could have drastically changed the outcome.

"I'm really glad it didn't go the other way."

The RCMP confirmed the rescued man is in stable condition.

"[McDougall's] bravery and his skill were certainly really wonderful," Const. Carlie McCann saod. "The fact that he was able to keep this person safe is really exceptional and out of the ordinary.

"We appreciated his assistance in keeping people safe."

'He went under and didn't come up'

The harrowing experience was witnessed by a CBC News reporter in its entirety. It started at Kanoe People and ended just past Polarity Brewing along the Millennium Trail.

McDougall was alerted by two passersby that someone was drifting down the swollen river. McDougall burst into action, carried a canoe to the shoreline and paddled to the man, who was quickly being whisked away. Only an outstretched hand and the top of his head were visible.

Julien Gignac/CBC
Julien Gignac/CBC

McDougall said he knew he didn't have long because the man appeared to be drifting in and out of consciousness in front of him.

"Here's the part that was troubling for me," McDougall said. "When I called my wife afterward, that was the first time I kind of choked up a little bit because it was probably one hundred feet before I got to him 75 to 100 feet — that he went under and didn't come up. He was gone.

"But I just focused on where I last saw him and just went as fast as I could, and hopefully I was going to be able to see him under the water, which I did, thank goodness, and I grabbed him and pulled him up and got his head out of the water and two hands on him."

McDougall said keeping the man's head above the fast flowing water was the defining moment.

Julien Gignac/CBC
Julien Gignac/CBC

Rowing with one arm, McDougall was able to get the man safely to shore, where the pair were met by the RCMP and paramedics. A helicopter hovered overhead.

A paramedic on scene said the man was alive and breathing.

McDougall said the rescue was a community effort — he couldn't have pulled it off without the help of others.

"It's good to have a community that's got its eyes open," he said.

"You know, we're a river town, right? We've got a beautiful river right beside us that's fast flowing. It deserves a lot of respect."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting