BURNTCOAT, N.S. – Things can change in an instant.
Krystal Lowe is an outdoorsy-type. She enjoys hiking and exploring her new home – Nova Scotia.
But one of these hikes turned dangerous after one of the dogs she was looking after chased after a bird, and ended up falling off a cliff. Trapped by tides, Lowe had no choice but to call for aid.
Here’s what happened from her point of view:
May 2, 2018.
“I had never been to Burntcoat Head before, it was a really beautiful day,” Lowe said. “I was watching my friend’s dogs while she was away in the Dominican and I wanted to take them on an adventure.”
Lowe said she’s explored a large portion of the Bay of Fundy during her regular hikes; Cape Split, Amethyst Cove and Blomidon – but wanted to give the Hants Shore a try, and where better than Burntcoat Head Park, which boast the world’s highest tides?
“Before I left I Googled the tide times, and the tide was expected to come in at 3 p.m,” she said. “I had never been there before and it looked like the park was closed, but I pulled into the parking lot and there were two maintenance workers and I asked them if I could still hike and they said it was OK.”
The park officially opens on May 18.
Lowe and the three dogs hopped out of the car, got on leash and headed out.
“It was so beautiful there, I took a bunch of pictures,” she said. “There weren’t many other people, but one woman was walking towards me and I asked her if there was anyone else or any dogs ahead. She said no, so I felt it was safe to let them off leash.”
“The dogs were like a bunch of kids in a candy store, running in the mud, getting messy, going in the water, I was taking photos,” she said.
Lowe and the dogs spent a lot of her time near the flowerpot island, which juts out from the ocean floor.
“One of the dogs, her name is Jewels, very adventurous and very sweet, she saw a bird and she chased it, and I couldn’t see her after she chased it,” she said. “I went to this rock face and I realized that she jumped off of a 10-foot cliff. Not something that I would have been able to climb down or jump off of myself.”
“I was looking around and trying to find ways to get her back up, and she was trying to find ways to get back up too,” she said. “I had to assess the best way to retrieve her and make sure she hadn’t broken anything.”
Lowe said the dog was relatively unharmed in the fall because of the soft surface of the ocean floor.
“She just kept trying to jump but eventually realized there was no way and just kept crying,” she said. “The two other dogs, Tia (Jewels sister) and Lilly were put on leash and I walked to the bottom of this rock face where we were standing and there was a flat part that stood out and I kneeled down and tried to coax the dog into swimming towards me so I could lift her up.”
“She kept swimming halfway to me and then she’d go back to the beach and crying,” she said. “I took off most of my clothes and tried to get into the water enough to make her comfortable enough to come towards me. I realized how deep it was and that if I got stuck, there’s no way for me to get the dog back.”
“I walked back towards the cliff to find another way to get her and literally five minutes later I turned around and this little flat piece of rock that I was standing on before was covered in water,” she said. “I was realizing that the tides were coming up fast.”
Lowe kept trying to figure out ways to get Jewels back to safety, but time was quickly running out. Seeing no other option, she dialed 911.
“A rescue team arrived in about 20 or 30 minutes, by land first,” she said. “The dog kept crying, and I felt so terrible.”
Lowe said the rescuers attempted to climb down to the dog via ropes, but it wasn’t safe.
The rescue teams told Lowe that a helicopter and a boat were on their way, and whichever arrived first would carry out the rescue.
The helicopter was the first to make it.
Lowe said despite the noise, the wind and the surreal nature of the helicopter’s presence, the dogs remained relatively calm.
“I asked them, are they going to take the dogs? They said yes. That was what was most important to me,” she said. “I was so concentrated on Jewels, that I hadn’t realized how far the tide had come up, and I realized that I was also completely stuck by the tides.”
“When the helicopter arrived, I was really surprised, Jewels actually got in the water again and swam to me, the tide was so high up she could get to where I was standing,” she said. “I pulled her up and I just hugged her so tight and held all of the dogs together.”
Lowe can’t be sure, but she intuits that the dogs must have known that they were now safe, and that the helicopter was there to help.
“The man from the search and rescue helicopter told me things were going to be ok, he explained how things were going to work. I asked if he could take the dogs up first and he said he’d take the little one up in his arms and then me and the two Amstaffs in a rope cage into the helicopter as well.”
The boat showed up, and it was determined that would be the best option, but Lowe said the dogs weren’t interested in getting in at first. But they were eventually lifted into the watercraft and taken to shore.
“Lilly was a little shaken up, but we all made it to land safely,” she said. “I was just completely astounded that had just happened. I’ve heard of it happening so many times before and I never thought I would be in the same situation.”
Now that it’s over, and everyone is safe and sound on dry land, Lowe said she’s learned a lot from the experience.
“As the water continued to rise, I just kept thinking about the dogs, I just needed to know that they were going to be ok,” she said. “If something had happened to them that day, I would have carried that weight for the rest of my life.”
One thing far from her mind on that day was what people would think and have to say about the rescue. However, it didn’t take long for comments to pour in on Facebook after the initial story was posted to social media.
“I read a lot of the comments online, and I mean, that’s one thing you shouldn’t do,” Lowe said with a laugh. “There were a lot of really nice comments, which I wish I concentrated more on.”
However, not all of them were particularly kind.
“Can’t fix stupid.”
“Waste of taxpayer’s money.”
“How could you put our first responders at risk like this?”
“What was she thinking?”
Lowe said it made an already traumatizing situation worse.
“We’re very quick to judge and to assume things,” she said. “Accidents do happen.”
Lowe took to her own Facebook page to write a catch-all response, hoping to shed some light on how people don’t know everything that happens in these types of situations.
“Sometimes there are circumstances that are outside of our control, and an important part of being a human being is to practise compassion, empathy,” she said. “People didn’t realize how grateful I was to the first responders for saving me and for saving the dogs.”
Lowe thinks back to the incidents at Peggy’s Cove, when people have to be rescued from the water after slipping on black rocks.
“Sometimes people die, and you read comments of people saying ‘that person should have known better,’ it’s all about hindsight,” she said. “But you really don’t know what happened in that situation that lead to that person to being in danger.”
“They could have tripped and fell, they could have missed the signs, maybe it was their first time seeing the ocean,” she said. “It’s human life and having empathy and compassion for people and not just jumping to conclusions is so important.”
But despite it all, Lowe won’t stop exploring the province she’s now happy to call home – taking some new lessons with her.
“It’s important to give yourself some extra time when dealing with nature. The ocean is beautiful and strong and she deserves respect and is very unpredictable,” she said. “Just because I Googled the tide times, doesn’t mean they won’t come in faster in certain areas.”
“It’s still kind of surreal that it happened,” she said. “The forces of nature are to be respected.”