GREAT FALLS — Six people survived a boating accident Saturday on Holter Lake thanks to the quick actions of strangers.
One of the survivors, Paddy Sangwin, said she and her friends were taking advantage of the warm summer weather at the lake when the accident occurred.
“We took two boats out, just goofing off, tubing, hanging out, just being with friends. I just remembered how choppy the waves were close to shore and stuff and like how the wind picked up. -- the side of the boat was almost in the water. And of course, the driver, his first instinct was to rev it up to get on top of the water just to get it going again,” Sangwin said.
But that decision caused their boat to capsize and all aboard to go under.
“The last thing I remembered was the boat coming on top of us. and then after that, I remember swallowing a bunch of water and trying to get out of there somehow,” Sangwin said.
Sangwin said she owes her safe escape to her friend Stephanie Kervi, a fellow passenger who pulled her to the surface by her hair.
“I just saw hair and I pulled,” Kervi said.
While Kervi managed to save her friend without hesitation, her own will to survive was shaken.
“I really wanted to give up. I really did. I was like ‘I’m not gonna make it, I'm not gonna make it’,” Kervi said.
But her friends encouraged her to just keep swimming, which she did to reach a nearby boat that took her to shore.
Levi Gibson was nearby, and the collegiate swimmer then took it upon himself to rescue two of the remaining passengers.
After helping one passenger to shore, strangers assisted so he could make another rescue.
“I ran, jumped, dove into the water and swam as fast as I could through the waves and everything. I grabbed him, towed him to shore, was met up with an off-duty EMT guy who was camping right next to the lake just 50 yards from where we were,” Gibson said.
That person -- who later told MTN News that he is not actually an EMT, but does have first-aid experience -- then took care of the second rescued passenger while Gibson and a group of other helpers worked to retrieve the boat.
By the end of the rescue, all six people and their boat had returned safely to shore -- thanks to the kindness of strangers.
Gibson said the decision for him was easy. A lifelong swimmer, he knew he had the skills necessary to save others. As for others wanting to help, Gibson suggests assessing your abilities first and then base your decision based on your instincts.
“I think if instantly your instinct is, ‘I can do that, I can help’, then don't hesitate," Gibson said.
Thanks to the acts of Gibson and several anonymous helpers, all passengers managed to make it back to shore with no serious injuries.
On behalf of herself, Kervi, and the other survivors who wish to remain anonymous, Sangwin said they feel beyond grateful to their many heroes from that terrifying day.
“To say that we are blessed and thankful is like one way to put it because honestly, this is nothing people could survive from,” Sangwin said.