Two students from Crestview’s French sister city have earned awards for bravery for their swift action following the sinking of two American friends’ canoe in Blackwater River during their visit to Crestview.
Océane Guillet, who was hosted by Crestview High School student Emily Wedige and her family, and Laura Jolly, whose hosts were Samantha Lush and her family, were recognized during a Twelfth Night reunion party for most of the 36-member contingent that visited Crestview in October and November 2012.
“What happened was two of my students managed to sink their canoe,” Crestview High French teacher Chris Lanoue explained. “Paddy (De Broucker, one of the French escorts) and I were in a canoe and we came upon them. They were on the edge of the river. It was a place where the ground slopes into the water pretty sharply.
“They were standing there in the water, in their canoe, but you couldn’t see their canoe. The water was waist deep. I’ve never heard of sinking a canoe.”
Lanoue said Océane and Laura paddled onto the scene shortly after the mishap. While Océane steadied their canoe, Laura jumped into the cold, swift-running river amid logs, branches and other debris to rescue equipment and belongings that floated out of the sunken craft.
“I remember thinking, ‘These girls are going to freeze to death,’” Lanoue said. “But they got the life jacket and the oar and some other stuff. It took some doing because it was tangled in the branches.”
Noirmoutier Sister City Committee President René Relandeau presented Océane and Laura with medals for bravery on behalf of the island community.
“Laura dived several times to remove from the water all the objects that were in the canoe,” Relandeau said.
“They were just so determined,” Lanoue said. “I told them, ‘Leave it; I don’t want you to get sick or hurt,’ but she went in anyway.”
Lanoue said she and De Broucker picked up the stranded girls and their rescued belongings “and the canoe rental people went to get the canoe.”
Relandeau said the 21 French students reminisced fondly about their nearly two-week stay in Crestview during the Twelfth Night event, which featured king cakes with hidden Crestview Bulldog charms in lieu of the traditional small figurine.
King cakes are served during Epiphany in various cultures around the world, including the South during Mardi Gras season. The person who gets the token hidden in the cake is considered blessed.
“We had a great party and we still talk about our stay in Crestview,” Relandeau said. “All the young people think only about Crestview while their parents only dream of going there.”
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.