The ambulance carrying the man rescued from the Yukon River makes its way down the Millennium Traion July 22.(John Tonin/Yukon News)

The ambulance carrying the man rescued from the Yukon River makes its way down the Millennium Traion July 22.(John Tonin/Yukon News)

A strong community effort led to the rescue of a man in the Yukon River, says Scott McDougall

Kanoe People owner Scott McDougall rescued a man from the Yukon River on the afternoon of July 23

In the afternoon of July 22, Whitehorse RCMP responded to a call about a man in the Yukon River near downtown.

Emergency response crews dispatched a boat and a helicopter to locate the man. It wasn’t emergency personnel who retrieved the man from the water, however.

Scott McDougall, owner of Kanoe People, got a canoe in the water to locate the man after two women ran into the store telling him of the situation. He was at the front desk at the time.

“They just said ‘Scott, someone’s drowning in the river, you’ve got to help them,’” said McDougall. “So I jumped into action. I grabbed a lifejacket and dropped the canoe in the water.”

McDougall said the man had “a good head start” as the current was pulling him downstream.

“He didn’t look like he was doing so good, his head was bobbing up and down,” said McDougall. “I didn’t think he’s going to last that long, time was of the essence.”

As McDougall made up ground on the man, he said he lost sight of him.

“He was down and never came up,” said McDougall. “I just focused on where I last saw him and kept going as fast as I could to that spot, just scanning the water for him. He was wearing a black shirt and that didn’t make it easier.”

When McDougall reached the spot, he said he had to reach down about eight inches under the water to get ahold of the man.

“I got a hold of them and pulled them up and tilted their head back and tried to squeeze their chest,” said McDougall. “I kept saying, ‘Breathe buddy, breathe,’ trying to stimulate him, just trying to get a sense of if he’s still on this Earth.”

Once he got ahold of the man, McDougall needed to get to shore where the help was.

“Once I had a good hold my focus was to get over to be accessible,” said McDougall. “Time was so critical, seconds were everything,”

During the rescue, McDougall said he wasn’t concerned about his safety.

“I just thought, how am I going to get this guy to shore now with one arm,” said McDougall. “I managed, I figured it out and it worked out.”

McDougall said he just played a part in a “great community effort.”

“It was a great outcome and a great team effort,” said McDougall. “Even the ladies that alerted me, had they not done that or had done that five seconds later it could have been a whole different story like it was that close.

“It was pretty amazing how it all came to positive results.”

The RCMP commended McDougall on his bravery during the rescue.

“The courage displayed by Mr. Scott McDougall of Kanoe People was outstanding, and the response of the public and our members and public safety partners was nothing short of remarkable,” said Insp. Lindsay Ellis of the Whitehorse RCMP.

Although the RCMP was grateful for the help from McDougall, police “would not recommend or ask the average bystander” to do something like this.

The RCMP is encouraging everyone spending time around the water to wear a lifejacket or personal flotation device at all times.

“The RCMP in Yukon have been fully engaged this summer with water rescues, and namely in the Whitehorse detachment area,” said Ellis.

“These rescues have been in addition to the calls for service we receive daily to provide essential core policing services to Yukoners and visitors alike. I urge everyone to use caution around the waterways – this year in particular has posed danger with high and swift-moving water.”

McDougall said the river needs a lot of respect.

“It’s a very strong current and the river doesn’t care,” said McDougall. “It’s just flowing downhill. It’s just doing its thing.”

The Whitehorse Fire department and Yukon EMS were on scene to ensure the man recovered and received immediate care after being brought to shore.

Contact Haley Ritchie at

Search and Rescue