Teenager saves stepfather, uncle from drowning in Newfoundland lake

Kevin Curley kevin.curley@thepacket.ca
Published on August 8, 2014

From left to right, mother Kerry McCann, daughter Olivia Little, uncle Greg Pelley, Chelsea Little, and aunt Leanne Pelley.

©Kevin Curley - TC MEDIA


A 15-year-old girl’s quick thinking narrowly avoided disaster and saved her stepfather and uncle from drowning Aug. 4 Thorburn Lake near Clarenville, Newfoundland.

Chelsea Little and her 10-year-old sister Olivia were home from Alberta enjoying a family barbecue when they decided to swim across Thorburn Lake.

Their mother, Kerry McCann, became nervous as the girls started their swim and asked them to return so their stepfather, Eddie McCann, an experienced swimmer and diver, could join them.

Chelsea had made the 200-yard swim a few times before. But, even though her sister had a lifejacket, she recently had surgery on her femur and her mother felt safer knowing Eddie was with them.

Chelsea told The Packet she got out half way when he started to fall back. She assumed he was keeping pace with young Olivia and when she asked if he was OK he replied, “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”

“I swam another five feet and turned around and he was taking really quick fast breaths. He said ‘no’ and started to go underwater,” says Chelsea.

Chelsea’s sister started screaming and making her way to the other side. They were past the halfway mark at that point and figured they were better off keeping on, she says.

“I swam back to him and he couldn’t float, me not wearing a life jacket and being a strong enough swimmer, I put him on top of me holding him under his arms and putting his head on my shoulder and swam all the way out to the shore. Then I asked if he could stand up, he nodded, because he couldn’t get any breath to talk,” says Chelsea Little.

But her stepdad was not fine -  he was having a heart attack. As he attempted to stand up he collapsed on the ground.

“So, I had to carry him, and he’s a big guy, he’s 250 pounds. I had to carry him up to shore,” says Chelsea.

Olivia stayed with him and the girl’s great uncle, Greg Pelley, seeing the commotion, began to swim over.

Three quarters of the way over Chelsea noticed her uncle was also in trouble.

“I asked if he was OK and he says, ‘No’. I swam over and he was going underwater, so I had to do the exact same thing to him and bring him to shore.”

Pelley says he overexerted himself in the heat of the moment after seeing there was trouble, causing him to become exhausted.

“I was worried about the girls, he’s a big man and I was worried he would grab them and pull them under,” says Pelley.

Both men are expected to make a full recovery and her stepfather is resting at G.B. Cross Memorial Hospital waiting to be transferred to St. John’s.

Neil Dawe, owner of the Lakeside at Thorburn Lake told reporters he was amazed by Chelsea’s rescuing efforts.

“I assisted with the ambulance and with my boat, but Chelsea is the definite hero of the story, she was calm and cool and took charge of the rescue. She’s an absolute hero.”

Kerry McCann says she is amazed with the way everyone reacted in the time of crises, Pelley, Dawe and her youngest daughter all displayed heroism in their own way.

She was most of all amazed by Chelsea.

“I didn’t even know she was that great of a swimmer, to be honest. Who really thinks your 15-year-old is going to have the ability to save two lives.”