'It's filling up with water!': Woman rescued from 20-metre sinkhole shares terrifying story
CTV Vancouver Island
Published Tuesday, January 30, 2018 6:48PM PST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 31, 2018 3:23PM PST
Karena Donnelly thought she was about to be buried alive.
The Nanoose Bay woman was driving back home Sunday night, navigating Lantzville's Rumming Road in the pitch black and pouring rain, when she noticed something up ahead.
"I looked ahead and I saw the road was just gone. I hit the brakes," Donnelly told CTV news Tuesday.
Unable to stop in time to avoid the washed out road, Donnelly's car plunged 20 metres down a muddy slope caused by a landslide, rolling two times before coming to a rest upside down, trapping her inside.
"I remember seeing my arms and my body sort of flailing around," she said. "The water was just pouring over my car so much."
As her car quickly began filing up with water, Donnelly made a frantic call to her boyfriend, Marc Volkamer.
"Help me! My car went into a hole in the road!" she told him. "There's a waterfall, the road is falling apart! I'm in a hole…it's filing up with water!"
The call lasted just under two minutes before it cut off abruptly, leaving Volkamer terrified for his girlfriend.
"I knew she was trapped and panicked. Water was coming in, and she couldn't get out. Then the phone went blank," said Volkamer.
Guessing where she would have been, Volkamer called 911 and anxiously waited to hear if first responders had found her.
"[I thought] they'll find her, I just didn't know if it was going to be in time," he said.
Meanwhile, Donnelly's crushed car continued to fill with mud and water up to her chest.
Thinking she might not make it out alive, she sent text messages saying to her kids saying "I love you" and nothing else, because she didn't want to say goodbye.
"I was scared that I was going to drown, and as time went by I was scared that I was going to be buried alive," she said.
But more than two hours later, help came in the form of Arrowsmith Search and Rescue President Nick Rivers, who rappelled into the unstable washout while dodging falling debris.
"The bags and the crashing sounds that were coming out of it were deafening," Rivers recalled.
When he reached the still-sliding car, he managed to pulled Donnelly out of a back window ¬and used a long line to pull her to safety.
Remarkably, she escaped without any major injuries.
"I am so grateful. There just aren't…there's no words," Donnelly said, through tears.
Volkamer called Rivers a hero for risking his own life to save a stranger's.
"He took of his own helmet and gave it to her. He’s a hero, and I think that what he did goes beyond his job description," he said.
Suffering only minor bumps, bruises and whiplash, Donnelly says she now has a new lease on life in the wake of the traumatic event.
"This is a wake-up call," she said. "I'm not ready, and I'm still here, and I'm grateful."
With a report from CTV Vancouver Island's Jessica Lepp