The body of a 12-year-old girl from the Kamloops area who drowned in Skaha Lake was recovered on Tuesday morning.
Penticton Search and Rescue manager Cindy Smith confirmed the RCMP dive team, working in conjunction with SAR, found Ida Lynn Marie Holt-Scherer’s body at 10:40 a.m. about 60 metres out from where she was last seen on Sunday afternoon.
Family of the girl were still at Skaha Beach, where they had set up a camp of sorts since she went missing, but did not want to speak. A victim services worker consoled one woman seated on the beach on a blanket while two traditional First Nations drummers played a song. Some of the other family members kneeled by the water crying and holding hands.
It was a different atmosphere than on Sunday when one female who said she was Holt-Scherer’s sister seemed numb and still in shock from what happened. The female, who did not want her name publicized, watched as RCMP boats and search and rescue scoured the area the girl was last seen, just west of where the Okanagan River Channel spills into Skaha Lake.
“She was messing around with her cousins doing handstands and she just slipped on the sand and went under,” the female said.
According to the family, the 12-year-old girl had walked out to the yellow warning buoys. The female family member indicated the water was very shallow, maybe waist deep. She said it was only after the incident that she learned the drop off after the buoys was incredibly steep. She said her sister had been sitting on the shoulders of another family member and the duo was playing in the water when the family member’s footing slipped right at the drop off.
“She slipped on the sand and went under water, and then there was screaming of ‘Help, my cousin is drowning.’ Instantly all the boats and people in the water were trying to help,” said one of the family members. “One woman nearby grabbed one of the girl’s hands and helped her but couldn’t reach (the 12-year-old).”
Holt-Scherer’s family said on Sunday they were appalled at the lack of safety warnings at the popular swimming area.
“It’s very dangerous and it’s shocking that it happened,” said the girl’s sister.
She said the incident happened so quickly and they didn’t understand why there wasn’t any warnings or even a log barrier that people can grab onto as a last resort at the buoys.
“I think people should know about this because it is an outrage. It could have been any of the kids that were out here today. There is no adequate warning signs and I don’t understand why there isn’t, or why there isn’t a lifeguard here,” said the family member.
It is not the first drowning in the area. Last August, a 40-year-old Alberta man drowned in Skaha Lake near Wright’s Campground. RCMP said the man tried to swim out to his daughter who was floating on a raft too far away from shore. His daughter was retrieved from the water by a nearby boater.
A Facebook post from PIB member Kym Gouchie said the family was gathered at the Band Hall on Tuesday afternoon where they were being supported by the community. She said donations are being accepted at the Band Hall to help with the family’s travel costs. Some of the family came from as far as Alberta to help with the search.
The City of Penticton said they will be reviewing all their safety standards and taking into consideration any recommendations that come from the coroner’s report in light of the tragic incident.
“We want to offer our sincere condolences to the family. We are so incredibly sorry for their loss. We take the safety of our residents and visitors extremely seriously. We are reviewing all of our safety standards in light of the weekend and public safety is paramount,” said City of Penticton communications officer Simone Blais.
Large signs mounted on a chain-link fence where the river channel current spills out into the lake warn people not to swim in the area. Still, some choose to ignore them, and even one day after the tragic drowning families were seen in the buoyed-off section of water.
Blais said that specific beach area is leased to the city by a locatee landowner with the Penticton Indian Band and the city maintains the area which includes placing the buoys following Transport Canada guidelines. The buoys are meant as a marine navigational tool and the yellow-coloured markers mean it is a danger area. She said the only colour buoys that delineate a swimming area are white. Blais added, the city does place a no swimming symbol on the yellow buoys, and beneath that there is a warning for hazardous currents.