Men who fell through ice in Sask. died trying to save kids, family says

Saskatoon

A Saskatchewan family is mourning after the loss of three members, including a seven-year-old girl.

2 men, 1 girl died Saturday at Humboldt Lake, Sask.

Pratyush Dayal · CBC News

· Posted: Nov 08, 2023 5:02 PM EST | Last Updated: November 9, 2023

Chris Novecosky, left, Joseph Novecosky, centre, and Ava Novecosky died Saturday after falling through the ice on Humboldt Lake in Saskatchewan. (CBC Graphics) A Saskatchewan family is mourning after the loss of three members, including a seven-year-old girl.

“I’m devastated, but I feel very well supported by my family and friends and community,” Kristen Bilawchuk said.

Bilawchuk lost her husband, Chris Novecosky, along with her nephew and niece on Saturday at Humboldt Lake, located about 115 kilometres east of Saskatoon.

Her brother-in-law, Fred Novecosky, lives at the lake. Bilawchuk said the tragedy started when Fred’s seven-year-old daughter, Ava, and five-year-old daughter went out on the ice by themselves.

“They always knew not to go to the lake without an adult,” Bilawchuk said. “We don’t know why, but the girls went out on the ice.”

Kristen Bilawchuk, left, says she is devasted but ‘grateful and speechless’ for the support the family has received, including GoFundMe campaigns. People have donated tens of thousands of dollars to support the families. (Submitted by Kristen Bilawchuk) The girls’ older brother saw them and rushed to get their mother, Heather Novecosky.

Heather told CBC News that she saw the girls floating far away from the lakeshore and rushed in to get Bilawchuk’s husband Chris and nephew Joe.

“They ran out heroically without hesitation,” Heather said.

Heather said she, Chris and Joe were walking on ice, trying to get closer to the girls, when it broke beneath them. She said her husband was able to get out on the water with a kayak and some life-jackets.

“My husband Fred saved my life and our daughter’s life,” she said.

WATCH| Family says 2 men who fell through ice died trying to save children: 

Family says 2 men who fell through ice died trying to save children A Humboldt, Sask., family is dealing with an unimaginable loss. Two men and a girl are dead after falling through the ice and drowning.

RCMP responded at approximately 2:20 p.m. CST on Saturday. First responders were only able to recover three of the five people who had fallen into the lake. Ava was pronounced dead at the scene. Heather and the other daughter were taken to hospital in Humboldt.

An RCMP recovery team later found the bodies of Chris, 38, and Joe, 28.

Heather said she and her daughter have been treated and are doing better physically.

Kristen Bilawchuk says her husband Chris, right, and nephew Joe, left, are heroes for sacrificing their lives to save others. (Submitted by Kristen Bilawchuk) The family is preparing for Chris and Joe’s funerals this Saturday in Saskatoon, and Ava’s on Thursday in Humboldt. For Ava’s funeral, the family is asking people to wear bright colours and for children to bring a stuffed animal to cuddle.

Bilawchuk said she is “grateful and speechless” for the support the family has received, including GoFundMe campaigns. 

“We’re so in awe of the kindness and generosity of people,” she said.

“We believe our faith is helping us through this as well, and having each other is what’s getting us through.”

Act of heroism reflection of character: Family member Bilawchuk said she is comforted by messages on social media praising Chris and Joe as heroes who died trying to save others.

“This was not out of character at all for them. They’re selfless and good men. Extremely kind, caring and generous,” she said.

“Their act of heroism is truly a reflection of their character. They loved our family so much.”

Chris Novecosky, left, plays with his niece Ava Novecosky. (Submitted by Kristen Bilawchuk) She said her husband and nephew were loved by many and known for their kindness.

Bilawchuk remembers Ava as “a bubbly little happy girl.” The seven-year-old was a Grade 2 student at St. Dominic School in Humboldt.

“[Ava] was a bright light on Earth,” she said. “She brought everybody so much joy.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pratyush Dayal covers climate change, immigration and race and gender issues among general news for CBC News in Saskatchewan. He has previously written for the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, and the Tyee. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from UBC and can be reached at pratyush.dayal@cbc.ca

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