“The fact that you have put your own life in danger to save me is remarkable and I’m deeply touched by your actions. In doing so, you gave me the chance to continue my wonderful life and for that, I will be forever grateful. You have shown exceptional courage and strength and I’m so proud to say that you are my heroes.”
These were the words from Michel Arsenault addressed to Diane Bernard and Denise Barnaby.
Emotionally and in tears, he told a small audience about the moment, three years ago, when he fell from the smolt wheel, his boot was caught in the wheel, pushed underwater by the current with his wader full of water, which it made it hard for him to lift his head. “It lasted few seconds, but it looked hours for me,” said Diane Bernard, who was the first one to jump from the Scientific Research canoe to the platform of the smolt wheel and run to the other side to try to rescue Michel.
Diane’s first attempt was to pull Michel out, but the water current was hard because Michel was 5’11”, 190lbs, the water in his wader, and the strength of the current. On her second attempt, she got the help from Denise and together they pulled him out. When he was out of the water on the platform, Diane was still holding him so tight that Michel, recuperating and coughing to expel water from his lungs, told her “Let me go”.
This happened in spring May 19, when the current of the Restigouche river is fast and carrying all kinds of debris. DFO wanted to thank them before, but the pandemic prevented doing it.
Yesterday was the day when Diane, Denis, and Michel, their families, DFO representatives, and the Listuguj Scientific Research team were together to celebrate the act of heroism of helping a colleague of 23 years, in danger on the salmon river.
By Felix Atencio-Gonzales