Chilliwack father escapes submerged truck, rescues daughters
CHILLIWACK, B.C. -- Dennis Saulnier believes he had "all the angels" watching over him and his two daughters that rainy May evening when they found themselves submerged in their truck at Cultus Lake.
He’s had three weeks to process what happened that day, and still, it feels as surreal as ever, he said.
“I'm just an average Joe person, going to get ice cream with my girls and we almost all died,” he told CTV News Vancouver.
Saulnier noticed a person driving erratically behind him. Moments later, the suspected drunk driver ran him off the road.
“Once the front tire hit the gravel, it just grabbed and the rest of my truck just spun on the wet road,” he said, adding he lost control of the vehicle and it started sliding back into the lake.
“I heard the tires pop and I knew we were actually going to the water and then everything just went into slow motion ... as I was going into the water, the Mythbusters popped into my head,” he said.
It was an episode that aired about a decade ago. One of the hosts was in a vehicle underwater in a swimming pool and experimented various ways of getting out safely.
Saulnier said knowing he had to wait until the inside of the truck had flooded with water to get the pressure equalized kept him calm, but it didn’t stop him from acting quickly.
He unbuckled all the seatbelts and smashed through the sunroof, allowing his two and four-year-old daughters to escape.
“The window just exploded really easy, but then all the doors exploded inward with water and all the door shield just blew right in like the Matrix,” he said. “It was like 20, 30 fire hoses shooting at me sideways ... a tidal wave just hit, it just pushed me out, up the sunroof.
“I tried to open my eyes and I couldn't see, nothing but, like, milky green water. Couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. So then I just, I started to panic, because I can't feel my girls.”
He swam to the surface, and when he looked around, he didn’t notice his daughters at first. He was about to dive back down when he spotted his youngest daughter’s ponytail.
“As soon as I saw her ponytail, I knew that there was actually a real chance that I still can save them. It was overwhelming,” he said.
He spotted his eldest daughter “barely floating” about 20 feet away.
A Good Samaritan saw what unfolded and helped Saulnier bring the four-year-old to shore.
“I kind of flip her over and she pukes out a bunch of water and she starts crying – at that moment, everything was the biggest relief. I can’t explain the weight that came off my shoulders and chest at that moment,” he said.
The incident has left his daughters shaken up. They’ve been afraid to go on car rides and near the lake.
“Whenever I leave the house, they always say, ‘Don't go on the lake, daddy,’” he said. “I'm hoping it doesn't stick with them for so long.”
He knows it could’ve turned out much worse. Various scenarios have been flashing through his mind.
When a scuba diver was hired to help locate the sunken truck, it was found wedged by a rock, about 35 feet below the surface.
He said he’s sharing his story to help others who might find themselves in a similar life-threatening situation.
“I think the biggest key in it was not to panic and to stay calm. Essentially, assess the situation,” he said.