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Alberta woman recalls harrowing rescue after falling into Jasper river: ‘This is how I’m going to die’

An Alberta woman who slipped and fell into a Jasper river, and the man who helped save her, are recounting the harrowing experience in hopes of warning others of the potential dangers of fast-moving water.

Last Saturday, Kate Jones and her friend Paige were hiking along a trail near a river in Jasper, Alta. The 21-year-old nursing student went down to the water’s edge and was standing on a rock when she said she slipped and fell into the fast-moving water.

“I don’t really know how it happened, but I went down and I could feel the rock on my back and I tried to turn around to grab the rock but there was no traction or anything for me to be able to grab it,” Jones said from Camrose, Alta., Friday afternoon.

“By the time my legs were in the water, it was so powerful, it just took all of me.

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“The current was so strong. The river was moving super fast. There’s nothing that Paige could have done because if she would have jumped in, it would have been the same thing for her.”

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Jones said the strong current grabbed her and immediately sent her down the river.

She said she tried to swim to the riverbank, but the force of the water was too strong and the weight of her backpack was pulling her under. She tried to take off the backpack, but couldn’t without becoming submerged.

“I felt like I had no control. My body was moving every which way.”

Katelyn Jones pictured at a river in Jasper, Alta.

Supplied to Global News

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a couple and screamed for help. With that bellow, water filled her mouth.

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“I was under. And then I was able to get back up and I could see this rock wall and I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my God. This is how I’m going to die’ because the rock wall was right there.”

At the same time, Phil James — who was out for a family hike with his wife and two young children — was heading down closer to the water’s edge to take a picture. That’s when he heard one loud “help!” come from the water.

“Without really thinking, I just ran down to the edge… and I just kind of grabbed her hand and said, ‘I won’t let you go,’” James recalled Friday, over the phone from his home in Calahoo, Alta.

“She grabbed on to the walk that I was standing on… and then my wife Sheena came down behind me and grabbed onto the arm that I already had of Kate, and then Kate reached up and grabbed my other hand and we pulled her out of the river.”

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James admits the ordeal was terrifying.

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“It was probably a little adrenaline, right? We didn’t really think twice about it, we both reacted pretty quick,” he said. “It’s scary because it could have been me, it could have easily been me… It happens quick and it can happen to anybody.

“Once we got her out we all kind of just took a moment, right? Kate was laying on the rock and her friend, I think her name was Paige, finally came around the corner and we got her up and we all had a moment just there.”

Jones said she didn’t really process what happened until she was driving home alone the next day.

“I had time to think about it and I was kind of just a wreck from there. I’m very thankful to be here.”

Katelyn Jones and Phil James pictured in Jasper after James pulled Jones from a nearby river.

Supplied to Global News

Monica Ahlstrom, president of Search and Rescue Alberta, didn’t have specific numbers but said there has been an increase in the number of water rescues in the province this year. She said the water levels in the Jasper area are a little higher than normal for this time of year, due to significant rainfall along the eastern slopes over the last couple of weeks.

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Ahlstrom said Jones is lucky to be alive.

“We have had fatalities just recently, actually, in the parks where people have been doing the exact same thing — taking a picture, slipped and fallen into the water and disappeared,” she said.

“I’m happy she survived and happy for her because it isn’t always a happy ending to those situations.”

Ahlstrom said any body of water presents a risk, but particularly moving water like a river. Even people who know how to swim can get themselves into trouble around fast-moving water, she added.

“Water can be extremely dangerous and it is one of the number one reasons search and rescue is called out in this province is to deal with water-related incidences,” she explained.

“The dynamics of the water, the speed of the water, how clean or dirty it is are all going to affect your ability to save yourself or have someone save you in that situation.”

She encourages people to be aware of their surroundings.

“Awareness of your environment is always really important and in particular when the water is high. Because again, it changes the dynamics. You may have been to that river before or to that water body before and recreated there but when the water is high, it changes the structure, the speed of the water — all of those things and it becomes significantly more dangerous,” Ahlstrom said.

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“They (rivers) can be unforgiving. They are neutral — they aren’t evil or good — but they can be unforgiving if you get yourself into a situation you cannot get yourself out of.”

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Jones is incredibly grateful for James and his wife Sheena. They all realize what could have happened if they weren’t there.

“I don’t know how to explain it. No one would understand unless you’ve felt like you were almost going to die. But it’s so scary and I still don’t understand it,” Jones said.

“I’m here and I’m so grateful I’m here and I’m thankful to Phil and Sheena and the kids and my friend.”

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They hope the story serves as a reminder to other trail users.

“You have to be aware of the danger out there. It’s very real and it happens in a second,” James said. “There’s a lot more water this year with the temperatures we’ve been having. It’s pretty crazy.

“We’re just glad that the outcome is not the other way and it’s not an obituary.”

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“It happened so quick and it can happen to anyone,” Jones said. “I wasn’t doing something that anyone else wouldn’t do or weren’t doing there.”

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James said he’s received praise from his family and friends, as well as complete strangers, after Jones shared her experience on social media. He said they don’t feel like heroes, they were just in the right place at the right time.

“It’s a matter of inches. If she was five inches further into that river, I might not have been able to reach her… You can’t jump into that water. Her friend… there’s a reason she didn’t jump in that water. It’s moving so fast you may not get our yourself, right?

“I’d do it again for anybody if I had to.”

The river Katelyn Jones fell into while on a hike in Jasper, Alta.

Supplied to Global News

Katelyn Jones on a hike in Jasper, Alta.

Supplied to Global News

Katelyn Jones on a hike in Jasper, Alta.

Supplied to Global News

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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