From left: Jon Duff, Lindy Gale, Justin Bifolchi, Matthew LeNormand and Mike Gilligan, were honoured, among others, on May 26, 2022, at the Central Region Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Awards for assisting at a boating accident last July.
Life can change in an instant.
On the evening of July 14, 2021, Lindy Gale, a registered nurse at Huntsville Hospital, and her fiancé Jon Duff, a volunteer firefighter with Muskoka Lakes Station 7, which covers the Windermere area, were relaxing on the dock of Duff’s family cottage. His pager went off indicating that there had been a boating accident and possible drowning around the corner close to Windermere Marina on Lake Rosseau.
His neighbour Justin Bifolchi and his neighbour’s friend Matthew LeNormand were just pulling in. Duff told them about the accident and asked if he could borrow their boat. Gale also joined them thinking she might be able to assist with first aid and the four of them headed towards the scene of the accident, quickly picking up Mike Gilligan along the way, also a volunteer firefighter with Station 7, who was waiting for them.
Gale described the scene of the accident as chaotic.
Two boats had collided and one of the boats was moving in circles erratically at a high rate of speed and getting closer to shore.
“It was a very scary, chaotic scene,” recalled Gale. She said Duff was driving the boat they were in and trying to get closer while Gilligan was in the front of the boat trying to lasso the runaway boat’s propeller.
“As far as we knew we had missing people in the lake,” said Duff. “There’s boats all over the place. Everybody is trying to find these people, there’s a boat that’s out of control… it made the situation a lot more intense and precarious, for sure,” said Duff.
Gilligan and Duff worked at getting the runaway boat under control.
“You try and throw ropes to get caught in the propellers so that’ll stop the boat from moving,” explained Gilligan. Eventually they got the boat to stop but “it was pretty dicey,” he said. “We did what we had to do.”
They could see there was a young girl in the front of the boat but as they got closer, they realized there was also a woman on the floor of the driver’s side of the vessel who was moving.
Once the boat was stopped, emergency responders were able to assist. They boarded the vessel from the other side. The 13-year-old girl was pronounced dead on the scene. Her brother had either jumped or fallen into the water and sustained non-life-threatening injuries, while their mom was taken to hospital with serious injuries and airlifted to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.
Gale said the impact must’ve been hard. She described the top of the vessel as being caved in by what she presumed was the other vessel going over top of it on impact.
Gilligan said he did not believe anyone in either boat was wearing a lifejacket. “It could have definitely helped,” he said.
The people in the other boat, which according to reports also contained two siblings and their mother, were propelled into the water when their boat capsized. The two siblings were helped aboard by another boater on the scene, while their mother, a 51-year-old woman from Oakville, went missing. Her body was recovered the following day.
On May 26, 2022, the Central Region Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Awards Ceremony took place at Hawk Ridge Golf and Country Club in Orillia.
All five were recognized with a lifesaving award along with those who worked to assist the occupants of the other boat.
The Central Region Awards are part of a series of award ceremonies held by the OPP every year to recognize various people in each of its regions. Among those recognized are OPP uniformed and civilian members, as well as community members who have demonstrated outstanding achievement, dedication, perseverance, innovation, and an overall commitment to the OPP and the communities they serve. Employees who have reached service milestones are also recognized, stated an OPP media release.
For their efforts during the boating accident on July 14, 2021, the following rescuers were honored by OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique with the commissioner’s Citation for Lifesaving award: Justin Bifolchi, John Brackett, Jon Duff, Lindy Gale, Michael Gilligan, Elle Hawtin, Matthew LeNormand, Geordie Newlands, and Katherine Norris.
You can find a list of all award recipients here (pdf),
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