The BC Coroners Service has concluded two deaths that occurred months apart in a popular Shuswap hiking area were accidental.
On May 15, 2019, a 27-year-old Malakwa resident died after falling 140 metres down a steep embankment at Sicamous Creek Falls. The coroner’s report states the man died from a traumatic head injury sustained in the fall.
According to the report, investigation into the Malakwa man’s death revealed he and the two friends he was hiking with had left the main trail and climbed up to a cave on a rock face. The report states they were taking pictures when the rock gave way and the man fell. One of the victim’s friends climbed down to the creek bed and CPR was attempted unsuccessfully. The Sicamous RCMP were called but had to suspend their search for the man’s body as darkness fell. A search and rescue helicopter retrieved the body the following day.
The coroner’s report concludes that alcohol intoxication was a contributing factor in the accidental death.
The second tragedy on the Sicamous Falls Creek trail took place on July 29. In the days that followed, the second man to fall to his death was identified as Dave Kowalchuk, a 53-year-old elementary school principal who lived in Sherwood Park, Alta.
Kowalchuk had been hiking the upper trail at the Falls Creek trail system with a family member. The coroner’s report states that Kowalchuk and his companion were not walking together as they descended the trail so there was no one there to witness his 30-metre fall from the upper trail onto the lower trail.
The coroner’s report states the family member who had been hiking with Kowalchuk reached the parking lot of the trail system and quickly became concerned when he did not appear; they tried running up the trail and calling out in search of Kowalchuk. Meanwhile, a person hiking on the lower trail found Kowlachuk lying on the trail unresponsive.
Help from emergency services was sought immediately; according to the coroner’s report they were dispatched to the trail at 11:57 a.m., but on arrival they concluded resuscitation was not viable. Blunt force trauma resulting from the fall is listed as the cause of death in the coroner’s report.
Kowalchuk’s employer, the Edmonton public school system, issued a statement following the accident identifying him as the man who had died, expressing sympathy to his family and recounting his career as a passionate educator and leader at his school.
The trail, which is maintained by the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD), was closed to the public effective July 30, 2019. It remains closed.
Both coroner’s reports note the CSRD had an assessment of the trails done by an outside agency which yielded steps that could be taken to improve safety. The recommendations included trail maintenance and blocking unofficial paths made by hikers which led to the cliff edge. Also recommended were improvements to signage describing the trail as a loop trail rather than a view trail, and discouraging hikers from trying to get a view from the cliff edge. The report states the trail will remain closed awaiting full implementation of the recommendations.