Crews called out for river rescue

Search and rescue crews were called out to save seven French-Canadians who ran into trouble rafting down the Okanagan River.

Search and rescue crews were called out to save seven French-Canadians who ran into trouble rafting down the Okanagan River.

Hamish Reidie, the regional swift water rescue team leader, said they were called out to the Oliver-area rescue on Tuesday around 5 p.m. The rafters had no medical concerns other than the swarms of mosquitoes that had bitten them, but were shaken by the incident.

“Over 70 per cent of the water incidents that happen in this province end in fatalities. In my six or seven years I have been a swift water technician, and all the calls I have been on, I have only ever done two calls that were rescues and not recoveries. That is the sad fact of it,” said Reidie.

The group of rafters were near the Oasis gas station when two of their inflatable rafts were punctured, putting seven people in two boats. The group managed to pull themselves ashore on an island down from the bridge.

“The problem with that is because the island splits the flow of the river, it speeds up the water going past that island. Some of the girls were not wanting to get back into the water and take the chance of swimming back to shore. At some point they managed to hail somebody on the walking path,” said Reidie.

The swift water rescue team, with the assistance of Oliver Search and Rescue and the Oliver Fire Department, set up a tension diagonal line that runs 45 degrees or more across the river. The team members equipped each of the rafters with a personal floatation device, and one by one ferried them to safety.

With the snowpack still melting off, residents in the South Okanagan have been warned to take precaution around water systems.

“People think it’s 30 degrees out let’s jump in the tubes, but they are ill prepared for that high level of water. It buries a lot of the debris that is normally visible and surfaced in the summer,” said Reidie.

He said boulders, log jams and other hidden obstacles can create areas where people can get caught up.

“They call this a Maytag. It’s basically like someone stuffing you in a washing machine, slamming the door shut, shoving a fistful of quarters into the slot and kicking it into high gear. It just keeps rotating you through the water so you get that breath and you hold and hold and get another breath. For people that aren’t trained they panic and can drown,” said Reidie. “People have to be prepared for whatever situations they may encounter and having a PFD can help. You have that much more volume or water going down to the river. It is powerful and relentless, it doesn’t stop because you are having an incident.”