Sailors hailed as heroes

LS (Ret’d) Jon White (left) and PO2 Don Merlo.

LS (Ret’d) Jon White (left) and PO2 Don Merlo.

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Two sailors transformed into holiday heroes for a family in Sooke after performing a water rescue just before Christmas that saved the lives of two young men.

The incident occurred Dec. 14 when the 20-year-old stepson of Leading Seaman Chris Moorhouse and his friend flipped their canoe in the frigid waters of Kemp Lake.

After capsizing, the canoe quickly took on water and sank leaving his stepson Corey and his house guest, who was visiting from the United Kingdom, stranded in the lake. The temperature that day was 4 Celsius, and LS Moorhouse says hypothermia set in minutes after they entered the water. The two, he adds, were not wearing life jackets.

Petty Officer Second Class Don Merlo and his friend Leading Seaman (Retired) Jon White had just arrived at the lakeshore to do some fishing when they saw the flipped canoe and its two occupants in the water.

“I spotted them and saw a splash and immediately pointed it out to Don,” says White. “We both knew how to react and kept calm and collected, but we could see the kids were going into panic mode and would need our help sooner than later.”

They called 9-1-1 but concerned it might take the volunteer fire department too long to arrive, the two sailors hatched a plan.
They were able to retrieve a kayak from a nearby cottage and set off to collect the two men.

“Within a few strokes of us getting into the lake they immediately started screaming for help, they were clearly panicking” said PO2 Merlo. “When we got to them the younger one [Corey] was coughing up water and struggling to keep his head above the surface. If we weren’t able to get him out of the water everything would have gone bad very quickly.”

White and PO2 Merlo managed to lift the victims onto the kayak and ferry them ashore.

Both were hypothermic. Corey lost consciousness three times, says PO2 Merlo.

They stripped the young men of their wet clothing and used blankets and their own dry clothing to keep them warm. When first responders arrived on the scene, the two men were transported to Victoria General Hospital where they were treated and eventually released.

A grateful LS Moorhouse said the pair became instant heroes to him and his family.

“The hero moniker is definitely warranted. It was really a huge stroke of luck that anyone at all was there to see the boys capsize. It is a credit to the training and skills provided by the navy that these two men were able to effect a successful water rescue with virtually no preparation or resources.”

After thanking both men for saving the life of their child and his friend, the Moorhouse family invited PO2 Merlo and White to join them as the guests of honour for a Christmas Eve dinner.

All three men said this past Christmas was one they will never forget.

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  1. Nick DiPersio says:

    Knowing PO2 Merlo since my days on board the HMCS Edmonton I can say his actions are not shocking. He has great values as a person and know it wouldn’t matter who was in distress, he would react the same way. Well done guys!

  2. Heather Parker says:

    What a stroke of luck. Well done.

  3. Chuck French says:

    Hear!, Hear! Well Done, Lads!

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