Location: Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Date: August 24, 1988
On August 24, 1988, 25-year-old Janelle Spain and 23-year-old Karen Himmel were vacationing at a campground upriver from Niagara Falls. About one to two miles away from the falls, Janelle and Karen cruised the waters in Janelle's brand new motorboat. They watched the sunset, then turned back in the dark, thinking they were heading into the canal that led to their campsite. Unfortunately, they had taken a wrong turn.
Sheila and Tom Hodges were driving to a movie on a road that parallels the Niagara River when they spotted a single-engine boat motoring on the prohibited waters toward the falls. Deciding that the boaters were in trouble, they stopped their car and saw the boat plunge over the point of no return. Sheila was amazed to see it land upright. "How that happened--I was just astonished they were still in the boat."
Tom flagged down a park tour bus in time for its driver to see a red flare go up over the water. The driver radioed the Niagara Parks Police Department. Police Sergeant Stan Sherar and Constable Alex Tacinelli were immediately dispatched to the scene.
Meanwhile, Karen and Janelle put on their life vests and jumped from the boat. The Hodgeses watched the women fight the swift current carrying them to the falls. "Once you pass the international control gates," says Constable Tacinelli, "you have no chance of getting out of the water before going over the falls."
Sherar and Tacinelli spotted Janelle and Karen less than five hundred yards from the falls. Sherar panned his flashlight back and forth on the women while Tacinelli yelled to them to swim toward the light. Karen swam across the current, but the officers lost sight of Janelle. Recalls Tacinelli, "I turned to my sergeant and said, "One's gone.' When I said that, I meant one is going over the falls."
Alex threw a rope to Karen. She grabbed it and Tacinelli pulled her from the water. Karen had a deep gash in her leg from the boat's propeller and was in shock, but she was safe. "I was shaking and scared," recalls Karen. "I yelled, 'Where's Janelle?' And they wouldn't answer me. I thought she went over."
Rescuers from the Niagara Falls Fire Department, including firefighters Bob Bevington and Bob Carpenter, joined in the search for Janelle, drove farther downstream, and spotted her 350 yards from the brink of the falls. Janelle yelled that she was tired and couldn't swim anymore. "I don't give a f--- if you're tired!" Carpenter yelled angrily, hoping to shock Janelle into keeping up her struggle. "You're going to start swimming to me! I don't give a damn if you're hurt! Swim to me now!"
Janelle continued to fight the current, but the rope wouldn't reach her. Bevington tied the rope around the waist and jumped into the treacherous waters. "I'm not a brave guy," Bevington remembers thinking to himself. "I thought, 'This is crazy, what are you doing? Your mother raised an idiot here.' " Bevington swam fifty yards across the current to Janelle, grabbed onto her life jacket, and yelled for Carpenter to pull them to shore. On land, exhausted and tearful--but unharmed--Janelle thanked her hero.
"She threw her arms around me, and she crushed me, pratically," says Bevington. "It was the most incredible feeling I have ever experienced in my life." Janelle and Karen can't thank their rescuers enough. Janelle credits Bob Carpenter for pushing her when she was ready to give up and praises Bob Bevington for risking his life to save her. "We need more people like him," she says. "I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for him. I don't care if somebody says that's his job. No, that's not his job. He didn't need to do that."