A Ladysmith artist who survived five hours in the frigid waters of the Salish Sea in late October and the rescuers who gave her a second chance at life were both struck with emotion as they met again in Ladysmith on Sunday.
“They were absolutely amazing and so compassionate and it was just such a beautiful meeting – I totally remembered the faces of the two guys that pulled me out of the water,” said Mya DeRyan.
“This was an extraordinary circumstance because they were looking for someone who didn’t want to be found.”
The 52-year-old jumped from the third car deck of BC Ferries’ Queen of Cowichan vessel travelling from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay on Oct. 30.
DeRyan had been suffering from a terminal illness and all last spring the dark blue curtains of her gallery on Esplanade Avenue beside city hall were drawn closed more often than not.
However, according to doctors that treated her following the rescue for hypothermia and resulting complications, DeRyan had been misdiagnosed with an illness she prefers to keep private.
“For as sick as I was, it was not a misdiagnosis. That was clear to anybody who was close to me or around me – the illness was very real,” she said.
Over the weekend, DeRyan, at her request, met with four members of the West Vancouver RCMSAR who found her drifting with a life ring approximately four knots from where she took the plunge into the ocean.
The large-scale search also involved members of Department of National Defence, Canadian Coast Guard as well as BC Ferries.
On the day of the ordeal, DeRyan remembers being extremely mindful and void of all mental chatter.
“I felt like I couldn’t have gone another day,” she said of her condition.
DeRyan said at no point does she remember the water feeling cold and the sensation that surprised her the most was the wake from the ferry that reminded her of the sparkling wine she drank only moments earlier.
“I wanted to be alone in the water. I wanted to be in an emotional and mental state to just peacefully pass and go down with the sun,” she said.
The large-scale search involving authorities both in the air and on the water included West Vancouver RCMSAR’s Rob Alexander, Bruce Falkins, Rebecca Hathaway and Ian Grantham, who all met with DeRyan over the weekend.
Director of Operations, Jason van der Valk was also in attendance and said “it was a great opportunity to sit down face-to-face with Mya and get a bit more insight into what she saw, what she felt, and vice versa.”
“It’s not too often the volunteers get to see again the people we’ve assisted or helped, let alone find out how they’re doing, so it’s good closure for them,” he said.
Alone in the ocean, DeRyan swam and tread water for the better part of almost five hours altogether, trying to breath calmly and concentrating while the search went on around her.
DeRyan remembers calling out for anything to grab onto and seeing the life ring originally tossed from the ferry by Wood drifting toward her.
“I open my eyes and I see something orange and glowing moving towards me. It’s not just floating on the wave like it’s in the current, it almost seemed like it was purposefully coming to me,” she said.
Rescuers eventually found DeRyan fully conscious and clinging to the ring but with a body temperature dangerously in the range of 27 C.
Van der Valk could only describe DeRyan’s survival given the frigid conditions that day and her ability to find the energy to stay afloat as “an anomaly.”
“One of the members has been volunteering for marine SAR for 40 years and he’s not aware of a case like this that he’s been on and so it was very unique,” said van der Valk said.
Following DeRyan’s decision to go public last week with her story, many on social media expressed frustration with her putting rescuers own lives on the line.
DeRyan said she understands their point-of-view and that it was never part of her plan to bring attention upon herself.
“I felt so guilty about tying up both ferries and delaying everybody and just imagining what they must being going through emotionally, or judgmentally,” she said.
Now, she plans to close up her gallery in Ladysmith within the next week and move to Vancouver to be closer to her son to start a new chapter.
“I feel like I’ve made some new friends. They’ve invited me to come visit them at the station,” she said. “It certainly brought me closure and just having an opportunity to just really convey my gratitude.”