VICTORIA — Six-year-old Jax looked down at his mother just after she fell into the frigid ocean water off the Cheanuh Marina in the Beecher Bay First Nation.
Shannon Burnside, 44, was wearing a life-jacket, but, weighed down by heavy boots and with a crab trap tangled around her leg, she was unable to pull herself onto the dock.
Burnside and Jax, who live in Colwood, had been crabbing at the Cheanuh Marina on Dock 7, about 500 metres from the marina office, last weekend.
Burnside decided to throw the crab trap in one last time, and as she took a step back for momentum, her back leg slipped off the side of the dock.
She went under the water and when she resurfaced, she saw the look on Jax’s face. “He was white as a ghost,” she said. “He was absolutely terrified.”
Burnside swam toward the dock but was unable to pull herself up. Jax got down low and tried to reach for his mom, calling out “Mama, Mama,” but Burnside was too far down and she didn’t want her son to fall in.
The crab trap had wrapped around Burnside’s leg and her big suede hiking boots were dragging her down.
She tried to get her elbows onto the dock. “I kept trying and trying and my muscles stopped working,” she said.
Jax got his mom’s cellphone and used the Siri app to first try calling 911, then his father. There was no cellphone coverage and the calls did not go through.
So Burnside tried to keep her voice steady and told Jax: “You’re going to have to go get help, but don’t run. Be calm.”
Two residents of a home overlooking the marina were trying to figure out what was happening. After they saw Jax running, they spotted Burnside in the water and ran toward her.
Grant Sawyer, a marina employee, also spotted Jax running toward the office and he rushed toward Dock 7.
“I don’t have anything else,” she told him. “I can’t hold on anymore.”
Burnside was too weak to walk, so a woman with a boat took her to the gas dock, where Burnside could dry off and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.
Jax, a Grade 1 student at Happy Valley Elementary school, told his mom that he kept tripping and falling on the dock, but each time, he’d pick himself up and didn’t stop running until he reached the office.
Burnside said there was a “split frozen moment” when she was in the water and she saw Jax’s panicked, tear-stained face.
“I looked at him looking down at me and I thought: ‘Is that the last thing I’m going to see?’ I didn’t want that to be the last thing that he saw, so I decided I was going to fight,” she said.
Jax Burnside was crabbing with his mom off the end of a dock in Colwood B.C. near Victoria last weekend when tragedy nearly struck, and his six-year-old hero instincts kicked in.
The sun was just going down and it was their last catch of the day when Jax's mom, Shannon Burnside, lost her footing on the dock and fell backwards into the frigid water.
She swam to the edge of the dock and tried to pull herself up. She was wearing a life jacket but a crab trap line had wound around her leg, preventing her from getting out of the water.
As she tried unsuccessfully to pull herself onto the dock, Jax's instincts kicked in and he grabbed his dad's phone.
"He told Siri to call 911, and it did nothing, and then he said 'Siri, call Daddy,' she said.
When Jax realized he wasn't getting anywhere with the phone he ran up the dock yelling for help.
"I saw a little boy come running up the dock and could hear him screaming for help," he said.
Sawyer quickly gathered life jackets and he and a few others ran toward where they could hear the woman's screams.
Burnside had lost the strength to hold on and was floating underneath the dock — out of sight.
Sawyer and another man pulled Burnside up onto the dock, checked her vital signs and got her and Jax on a boat back to the marina office where she warmed up with dry clothes, warm blankets and a hot cocoa.
Burnside suffered cuts, bruises and a dislocated shoulder. She says she would have given up in the water had it not been for her son.
"There's just no way you can get out of the water. You lose your motivation," she said.
Mom and son are already trying to put the incident behind them — they've since travelled back down to the same docks for more crabbing and fishing.
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