Southwest Head Lighthouse, Grand Manan Island, Canada, photo courtesy New Brunswick Tourism
February 26, 1963
Billy Jones clawed his way up, gripping each slick rock with all his might. An icy wind blasted him with snow, taking his breath away. He had to keep going. His brother Floyd would die if he didn’t get help.
He peered down into the darkness, barely able to see the frothy waves splashing against the rocks below. How long had he been climbing? It felt like hours, but he could see the light from the lighthouse above him, getting a little closer as he continued.
When he and Floyd left the harbor in Maine that morning, they hadn’t planned to go far from shore, but their engine failed just as a gale struck, blowing them out to sea. For twelve hours they bailed water and prayed until their boat ran aground below the lighthouse at Southwest Head, Grand Manan Island, Canada.
The two brothers struggled to reach a ledge above the crashing surf, but Floyd was numbed by the cold and could not go on. So Billy left Floyd and climbed the perilous steep cliff to the lighthouse to get help. Three hours later, he reached the top and crawled to the keeper’s house collapsing in front of the door. With what little strength he had left, he pounded on the door.
When Keeper Ottawa Benson and his wife Hildred heard the sound, they opened the door and found Billy covered with snow. He barely managed to talk, saying, “Me and my brother’s been blown ashore. I got up the bank, but he’s still down there.”
The keeper was astonished. Even though there had been other wrecks at the base of the cliff, no one had ever climbed to the top before. He summoned a rescue party, but the group decided the conditions were too bad to attempt the rescue, deciding to wait until morning. However, one of the men, Vernon Bagley, volunteered to descend the cliff to get Floyd, saying the man would be dead if they waited until morning.
A nylon rope was tied around Bagley and he was lowered over the cliff, but after going a short distance down, he lost his footing and got banged up by falling rocks. He decided to call it quits and scrambled back up to the top. Then he changed his mind, said, “Yessir, I sure would!” and went back down, armed with a flashlight and extra mittens in his pocket.