Two Teens Drown In Rideau River Tragedy

By Charlie Senack 

Two teens are dead after falling through the ice on the Rideau River near Manotick Wednesday night. 

Ottawa Police said they received a call from a neighbor at around 9:45 p.m. that evening reporting four teenagers fell through the ice near Nicholls Island Road. Two youths — a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old male — were taken to hospital for mild hypothermia. They were able to rescue themselves and are expected to make a full recovery. One of them ran to a nearby house to call for help. 

The body of 17-year-old Ahmed Haitham, a Barrhaven resident, was pulled from the frigid river around 4:00 a.m. in the morning. A GoFundMe page set up to help his family said he went out skating with friends. 

“He only took a few steps on the ice and unfortunately the ice broke,” the GoFundMe read. “Ahmed and his friends fought for their lives wearing heavy winter pants and jackets, with heavy skates trying to swim in pitch black darkness.”

Haitham, who would have turned 18 next month, attended John McCrae High School and was getting ready to graduate in two months, his family said. He had plans to attend a police foundations program for post-secondary education. 

A poster has been placed outside of Haitham’s Old Barrhaven home. The GoFundMe page has already raised over $18,000. 

“He was joyful, generous, thankful and forgiving,” the poster read. “He loved animals and helping others. [he] chased his dreams always with a smile.” 

Thursday afternoon, police were back in the Rideau River with a robot looking for the remaining missing 17-her-old male. Their search was stalled during the day due to “very difficult conditions.” A member of the diving team had to be transported to hospital after receiving “diving related injuries.” He was listed in serious but stable condition and is said to be doing well, according to Police.  

The body of Riley Cotter, 16, was pulled from the river late Thursday evening. Also a John McCrae High School student, Cotter had a passion for alpine skiing and dirt bikes. 

“We extend our deepest condolences to the families, friends, and all those affected by this tragic loss,” Ottawa Police said in a post on the platform X, formally known as Twitter. “This incident profoundly impacts us all, and our hearts go out to those who are grieving.”

Barrhaven East councillor Wilson Lo also shared his condolences. 

“I’m deeply saddened about the loss of two young Barrhaven residents in the tragic incident on the Rideau River last night,” he wrote on X. “Our community is grieving with the families, friends, and neighbours of Ahmed Haitham and Riley Cotter. My heartfelt sympathies.

Ice safety 

Ottawa has been dealing with above seasonal temperatures which led to a green Christmas. This week there were five straight days of temperatures above 0 C as an El Niño keeps the water warm. 

Many parts of the Rideau River near where the teens drowned had open water with some areas being covered in a thin layer of ice. Neighbours who live in the area said just a few days ago almost the entire river was blanketed in ice. 

Safety officials are urging everyone to be cautious since weather has not allowed ice thickness to form. 

Before walking on ice people should inspect the ice surface, note the colour of the ice, and measure its thickness. Dull grey ice is a sign it’s unsafe to step on, whereas blue ice is clear and strong. 

“When you’re considering heading out for a day of skating, a greater ice thickness is required for a group than for one skater. The Canadian Red Cross recommends that ice should be at least 15 cm (6 inches) thick to carry a single person,” the Ontario website said. “But if you’re heading out with a group of friends for skating or a game of shinny, ensure it’s 20 centimetres (8 inches).”

This is not the first ice-related tragedy to occur in Canada this year. Earlier this week an Alberta family died after falling through the ice while riding a UTV. In Quebec, officials are still searching for a missing four-year-old who fell into a river.