By Laura Keil
A frightening close-call on the Fraser River the last weekend of May has many thinking about water safety.
A group with two canoes capsized on the Fraser in the late afternoon of May 27th. A canoe with a single person capsized close to the Tete Jaune Bridge and the other canoe with four people – including two children – tipped over in their effort to rescue the first person.
Tourists sitting at the Tete Jaune Lodge ran for help when they saw the first man and his canoe get swept down the river.
Another witness phoned Terry Cinnamon who runs Mt. Robson Whitewater Rafting. His rafts were not inflated yet for the season, so he drove over to Stellar Descents and helped drive the rafts to the river.
“They made their way down to the log jam, got them all safely in the raft,” Cinnamon said.
Justin Hachman, owner of Stellar Descents, says the canoe group had made their way to an island after climbing up on the log jam.
“They did really well by jumping on top of the wood. They were quite cold and we brought some warm layers for them.”
He says it sounds like the canoes hit the log jam and both boats were sucked under the jam.
“It was a very close call.”
He says he’s happy everyone was okay.
“I’m glad it was a rescue and not a recovery.”
Cinnamon didn’t know 911 had been called, and only realized when the ambulance and a helicopter showed up.
Cinnamon says the quick response from emergency responders, including Search and Rescue, was great.
“It’s nice to see that there can be a quick response in the valley when there could be an emergency,” he said. “In a quick time, there was police, ambulance and helicopter searching.”
Cinnamon says this kind of close-call happens more often than it shows up in the media.
“I’ve been involved in half a dozen over the last 30 years.”
He says they have their boats pumped up now and are open for rafting for the season.
“Hopefully we don’t get called out, but if we are, we’re ready to go.”
Tips for staying safe
It’s a good time to think about outdoor safety, says BC Search and Rescue CEO Dwight Yochim. He says general tips include knowing how to swim, wearing life jackets, and keeping pets away from water. He says sometimes the boat or something in the boat will strike a person and knock them out when the boat capsizes.
“Personal flotation devices are designed to keep your head above water even when you’re unconscious,” he says. “They are designed to save your life.”
He says those kinds of simple precautions make everyone safer and it looks like it’s going to be a very hot summer.
“Personal flotation devices are comfortable to sit on, but they’re much more effective if you’re wearing one in case something happens and the boat rolls and you end up in the water accidentally.”
Yoachim says pets can also be a hazard to humans around water, and on hot days many animals will gravitate there.
According to the BC Lifesaving Society, a 45-year-old man died in Cypress Falls Park May 19th after jumping into the water to save his dog. Both were swept away and died.
“As uncomfortable as it is, try to keep your dog on a leash, it protects them from going into the water, and it’s even safer during bear season. The majority of bear attacks happen when the dog brings the bear back to the owner.”