Ottawa woman dies surfing in B.C. before daughter's wedding
Published Tuesday, May 22, 2018 6:04PM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, May 22, 2018 7:09PM EDT
The beauty of the Pacific Ocean off Vancouver Island’s west-coast is a surfer’s paradise, on Sunday morning though that beauty quickly turned to tragedy.
Ottawa woman Ann Wittenberg, 52, was trying out surfing with her daughter Rachel, when Wittenberg was pulled under by the current. The tragedy happening just hours before her older daughter, Victoria Emon’s wedding was scheduled to take place nearby.
Several surfers worked to save the woman after hearing Rachel’s screams for help. Veteran surfer Heather Durward said she spotted Rachel at the top of a rock and pulled her to safety, “I said is there anyone else there and she said my mom is dead, my mom is dead.”
Durward and several other surfers then furiously tried to save Wittenberg, “at times the waves would get so big and we would struggle to keep her on the board. We just all held on and swam as hard as we could to get her in.”
Efforts to do CPR weren’t enough to save her.
Wittenberg, a newlywed herself after eloping to Cuba in March with her husband Harvey Chris Wittenberg, had travelled from Ottawa to Tofino for her daughter’s wedding. Emon then made the difficult decision to go ahead with the ceremony Sunday afternoon, just hours after her mother’s death.
“To everyone who thinks it was easy and heartless for me to go on with my wedding, please understand that my mom was so excited to be there and watch me get married,” Emon wrote in a Facebook Post, “It was the hardest day of my life. We all did what mom wanted us to do.”
Wittenberg’s husband says his wife was a loving wife, mother and grandmother. She was born in Calabogie, raised her kids in Arnprior before moving to Ottawa recently after meeting her husband. She worked the last 25 years as a case worker with the Ontario Government in Renfrew and Ottawa.
She met her husband Harvey Chris less than a year ago, “she was my soulmate and fairytale ending,” he told CTV News, “it was like we were together forever.”
“Ann was loved at work and always had an energetic smile.”
He went on to say she was so excited about her daughter’s wedding; she would have wanted it to go on without her.
Long Beach has been a popular surf spot for decades. Parks Canada removed lifeguards from there in 2012. Durward says Wittenberg’s death should be a wake-up call to those in charge, “it was dangerous back there. There should have been someone trained with a sled who could have got in and out quicker she would have had more of a chance at survival if there was somebody on the beach who had seen her getting swept away, they could have got to her before she drowned.”
Wittenberg’s family is planning a funeral for later this week.