Brave friends honoured for lifesaving heroics

Plucking stricken kayaker from the harbour earns Leonard Aleck and Dale Wells a provincial salute for bravery

Shell Beach residents Leonard Aleck (right) and Dale Wells were honoured by the Lifesaving Society of B.C. March 28 for leaping to save the life of a capsized kayaker in Ladysmith Harbour in November.

Shell Beach residents Leonard Aleck (right) and Dale Wells were honoured by the Lifesaving Society of B.C. March 28 for leaping to save the life of a capsized kayaker in Ladysmith Harbour in November.

Dale Wells doesn’t consider himself or his friend and neigbour Leonard Aleck to be heroes.

In his mind, they are just a couple of guys who were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to help a fellow human being in need.

Morley Hornung may disagree.

Hornung was the Vancouver kayaker who flipped his boat off of Shell Beach in November, got his foot tangled in some rigging, and may have drowned if not for the quick, decisive action of the local pair.

Wells and Aleck were among 26 people from across the province honoured for bravery by the Lifesaving Society of B.C. late last month in the 103rd-annual Honour and Rescue Awards.

While downplaying his actions as something anybody would have done, Wells does acknowledge the timing could not have been more fortunate for Hornung.

“I don’t think he would have survived,” he said. “He was really blue in the face and hands. We still don’t know how long he was out there for.”

The day was cold, but clear and sunny, and the neighbourhood was quiet and otherwise empty of people when Wells and Aleck decided to go  for a walk. Residents of the Silverstrand Road area, they were on the beach when they heard a faint call for help offshore.

Wells told his wife, Renee, to call 911 as they heaved Aleck’s nearby boat into the water and sped out toward the neighbouring Dunsmuir Islands.

What initially had appeared to be a seal or log bobbing partway between the little island and landmark big red buoy in the harbour was actually a man in a wetsuit clinging to an overturned kayak. He was unresponsive and his foot was caught in some equipment underneath..

Aleck manoeuvred the boat into range and Wells tried to pull the man aboard, but even after freeing his foot, was unsuccessful.

“He as an older gentleman, not big, but he had all the water weight on him,” Wells said.

Instead, he wrapped his arm around Hornung’s chest as Aleck steered the boat to the nearby island. Together they got him out of the water and into the boat, then headed back to the main beach for help.

They could hear the sirens approaching from Ladysmith as they ferried Hornung’s cold, semi-conscious body to shore. Another friend, Lyle Jack, greeted them with a blanket. They wrapped him up and kept him warm as the ambulance came over the hill.

According to Dale Miller of the Lifesaving Society, Hornung was a very experienced kayaker, but this particular day was not using his own kayak and did not have his regular safety gear.

“He was coping well until hypothermia gradually began to have its effect,” Miller said. “(Then) he was in trouble and something needed to happen fast or the day was not going to end well.”

Miller said the paramedics took Hornung to hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia and made a full recovery.

For the softspoken Wells, hearing a grateful Hornung alive and well and phoning to say thank you a couple weeks after the incident was all the attention he needed. That said, he and Aleck definitely appreciated the effort the society put into honouring them and B.C.’s other brave rescuers.

Lieutenant-governor Judith Guichon presented the pair with silver medals during a March 28 ceremony at the Hotel Vancouver.

“Me and Leonard weren’t looking for any recognition,” he said. “But it was really nice to see somebody appreciates it.”