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During the first day of the Coroner’s Office investigation into the death of firefighter Pierre Lacroix, who died during a nautical operation on the St. Lawrence River in October 2021, the two boaters rescued that evening recounted the course of the tragic events.
Little experienced in navigation, Tommy Yi wanted to try the boat he had just acquired. Around 6 p.m. on October 17, 2021, with his friend Ana Dicu, he launched the boat in Lachine. But ten minutes after departure, the boat’s engine overheated and stopped. Adrift, the two friends call 911 for the first time for help. On the phone, the Coast Guard representative warns them of the dangers of the Lachine Rapids. “Put on your life jacketsit’s not going well “.
In front of coroner Géhane Kamel, Tommy Yi described the rescue operation that went wrong. During the maneuver to attach his boat to the lifeboat, it suddenly overturned and four firefighters found themselves in the water. Tommy Yi was able to board three of them, but the fourth was missing.
Testifying in turn, her friend Ana Dicu admitted that at the time of the events, she was unaware that there were rapids in the area. “I was unaware of the dangers,” she said. The two boaters tried to immobilize the boat by dropping anchor, but it was a waste of time because the current was too strong, she added.
A video of the operation
Mme Dicu claimed that while wanting to use her cellphone to give her friend some light, she unwittingly triggered her device’s camera which filmed the rescue operation as the fireboat capsized. . She said she later gave her phone to a rescue worker she identified as a firefighter. She said she was hurt to see that the images she had shot had subsequently been relayed to the media.
At the end of the testimonies of the two boaters, Coroner Kamel insisted on the dangers of boating. “I feel like telling you: take this event as a second chance. That evening, you could have been among the victims. […] I just hope we learn from all of this. Sometimes we take unnecessary risks. I sincerely wish you to find some inner peace. »
Testifying in the afternoon, police officer Martin Langlois, from the nautical unit of the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, described the search operations in which he participated in order to find the body of Pierre Lacroix. In particular, he decided to board a boat belonging to a civilian to explore the surroundings of the islands present in the Lachine rapids sector. The body of Pierre Lacroix, trapped under the firefighters’ rescue boat, was finally able to be picked up a few hours later.
Asked about the training required for boating, the police officer indicated that the competency card could be obtained at the end of an online course without navigation experience being required. “There is no practice, unfortunately. It’s not like a driving school. It’s only theoretical,” he said.
Tribute to a hero
At the end of the day on Monday, the eldest daughter of Pierre Lacroix, Stéphanie Lacroix, took the floor to pay tribute to her father who died at the age of 58. She described him as a generous, sensitive and empathetic man. “My father was my model, my own hero, before being that of others,” she said, moved.
She explained that on several occasions, Pierre Lacroix had expressed his frustration with nautical rescues because of the frequent mechanical problems with the boats and the training he considered ill-suited to the reality on the ground. “He was particularly aware of the great dangers posed by the Lachine Rapids. I will always remember his anger which he shared with me one day when […] he had told me: going to the rapids is a plan to kill yourself. »
Stéphanie Lacroix lamented that few measures were put in place to improve the safety of rescuers after the tragedy. She recounted having had several conversations with the director of the Montreal Fire Department, Richard Liebmann, and having learned that the authorities were awaiting the conclusions of the coroner before reviewing the nautical interventions. “I was shocked to realize that patches and solutions had been put on hold and had only seen very small progress since my father passed away. »
The hearings, which are taking place at the Joliette courthouse and are to be spread over two weeks, continue on Tuesday.
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