VANCOUVER — When one of Arnulf Salazar’s young sons began drifting into deeper water at Chehalis Lake in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, the 53-year-old didn’t hesitate.
His bravery was not at all surprising to his 18-year-old daughter, Zsalve.
“He didn’t even think twice about saving Zac,” she said. “He was running.”
Salazar was at the lake on July 17 for a family picnic. The father of four from Surrey jumped in and managed to reach 10-year-old Zac, who is autistic and non-verbal.
“It was just like a slip of the moment where Zac just started to drift apart from us,” Zsalve said, and described how the lake abruptly gets deeper. “Little did we know, it was shallow, and it suddenly just had a drop.”
Nick McCleary, who was just wrapping up a camping trip at the lake with his own young son and friends, was packing up when he heard shouting near the shore.
“I saw quite a group of people yelling for help and pointing out to the water,” he said. “When I looked, I saw a man and a boy struggling.”
McCleary jumped into the water and swam out to the father and son.
“I told him to pass me the boy and I had a good hold of him. I told the man I had him and I would get him to shore,” he said. “It looked like he was OK, and I looked back a couple times.”
McCleary made it shore with the boy, but when he looked again, Salazar was no longer visible.
“I was just so out of breath, I couldn’t go back anymore,” he said. “I really wish I could have done more. He was a father of four. I’m a dad myself.”
Salazar’s daughter said her father was eventually pulled from the water with the help of a diver who was on scene.
“He strapped himself with a rock so he could go down, and thankfully he got my dad out,” she said. “My family and myself, we were doing CPR on him for around an hour (and a half).”
At that point, Zsalve said emergency responders arrived at the remote location, but Salazar did not survive.
“He was a great father,” Zsalve said. “I looked up to him so much. He’s inspired me just to keep pushing forward and do the things I love.”
Salazar worked as a glazier, cutting and installing glass. His daughter said he could initially appear stern, but was really sweet, and very hardworking.
“We had no idea an incident could occur at all,” she said. “Advice would be, prepare for the worst. Because it is summer, it’s getting hot. Life vests.”
Along with his daughter Zsalve, Salazar has a 22-year-old son, and his son Zac has a twin brother who is also autistic. An online fundraiser has been collecting donations to help Salazar’s family.
“Words could never express how thankful I am for everyone supporting me and my family,” Zsalve said, and added she is also grateful to those who even just read what she had written about her father on the fundraising page. “He was a hero that was gone too soon.”
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