Experts are telling people to stay away from the icy Ottawa River for at least another week until temperatures warm up. The warning comes after an Ottawa runner risked his life during a dramatic rescue this weekend.

Brian Schmidt was running with his wife, Lisa, Sunday afternoon when he saw a canoe carrying two men in very choppy water capsize, dumping both men into the river. Neither one was wearing a life jacket, according to Schmidt.

Schmidt said he realized very quickly the men were in trouble. He immediately ran over to help.

A man, who Schmidt believes is about 60, had grabbed onto a branch a few metres from shore. The other man, who appeared to be younger, had landed closer to shore, but was having difficulty getting out – cold from the water, and stuck in some roots from a tree.

Schmidt first helped pull the younger of the two to safety. He then headed into the cold water to assist the second man.

“He was saying he was going to die and it scared me actually, because I thought if he does let go, as I looked down the river there is nowhere to go but down to where the rapids are,” Schmidt said.  

It was until Schmidt entered the water that he realized how cold and fast moving it was.

The man told Schmidt he was weak and struggling to hold on to the branch. Schmidt asked him to use any remaining energy to grab for his arm.

 “I’m holding on the tree and with one effort I reached out and grabbed his arm and wrapped him up, scooped him up,” he said.

A teacher at Woodroffe High School, Schmidt said he gave a bit of a lecture to the men about safety. He followed up with a big hug and continued on his run.

Paramedics did respond to the scene but said both men denied assistance. Officials added that the Ottawa River is about 4 degrees Celsius this time of year and should not be entered without a wetsuit to prevent hypothermia.

Experts at the Rideau Canoe Club said canoers, especially those with little experience, should wait at least another week for temperatures to warm up.

“The water is cold… and if you have any doubt - you shouldn’t be out there,” said Angus Mortimer, a coach with the club.

Mortimer said even the most experienced canoers wear a life jacket, carry a whistle, and use a buddy system for safety.