Romanian tourist identified after drowning in Skaha Lake

The man was visiting Penticton from Romania and was knocked off his paddle board by the wind, according to the BC Coroner's Service.

The BC Coroners Service has confirmed the identity of a man who died in Skaha Lake Penticton on July 3.

Flaviu Attila Struczul, aged 33, of Satu Mare, Romania  was found unresponsive several metres underwater by Penticton Fire Rescue crews who responded to the 911 call about 2 p.m.

Struczul was visiting from Romania with a friend. They and friends from the Lower Mainland were camping at Skaha Lake for the long weekend. About 1:45 p.m. on July 3, 2016, Mr. Struczul, who was paddle-boarding on the lake, was witnessed falling from the board after being hit by a gust of wind. He was seen to be in trouble in the water shortly afterwards, and emergency services were summoned.

Struczul was found in about two metres of water about 20 minutes later, and was rushed to Penticton Regional Hospital, but Struczul could be not resuscitated.

The BC Coroners Service and RCMP continue to investigate this death.

Need for safety on Penticton Lakes 

This is believed to be the second water-related death locally this season. In May, the body of a 51-year-old woman was recovered in the shallow waters of Okanagan Lake near the SS Sicamous.

She was declared deceased at the scene. However, a cause of death was not reported.

Rescue crews have already attended a number of calls this year of people in distress which included a report of a swimmer in trouble late last week in the same area of Sunday’s accident.

A lengthy search of several areas of the beach around the Okanagan River Chanel failed to turn up anyone.

Another incident on the May holiday weekend resulted in the rescue of a group of people who had tied floaties together and got caught up on a bridge piling at Green Mountain Road. There were no injuries.

“We know that people are out there enjoying the water but you also need to be aware of your surroundings, it’s important to be wearing a PFD because like what took place on the weekend, it can just happen so quickly, it’s a sad situation,” said Watkinson.

Sunday’s death came at the same time Penticton Fire Rescue is preparing to launch a much stronger emergency presence on Skaha Lake.

It’s hoped by the end of this month two, $20,000 personal watercraft rescue units will be put into service and moored at the Skaha Marina.

This will mean the response time to 911 calls will be shortened considerably and unlike in Sunday’s incident where the fire department’s inflatable rescue boat first had to be transported to the scene from the nearby hall, they will already be on site.

“These are like jet skis and will have a lot of speed so we’ll have quicker access and will have rescue boards on which we can do CPR,” said Watkinson. “It will certainly bring the rescue potential for Skaha up dramatically. It will be a whole different sense of security on that lake.”

There will be the added bonus of being able to use the watercraft for calls on the Okanagan River Channel, of which there are plenty in the summer.

Because Skaha Lake is smaller and the emergency calls are more likely for incidents involving swimmers or tubers Watkinson believes the personal watercraft are best suited for work there.

To improve rescue capability on Okanagan Lake the department is currently looking at having a specially designed boat in place by next year which would be moored at the Penticton Yacht Club.

“We’re looking at a jet boat which would have a big, four-foot swim grid on the back and no propellor,” said Watkinson. “Trying to pull a body over the hull of the boat is really hard, especially when there are only two or three guys on the boat.”

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit praised the chief’s “ingenuity” in reallocating his department budget to acquire the much-needed rescue craft.

“In times of emergency, minutes are vital and however you can save time to get to the scene is going to make a difference,” said Jakubeit. “The sooner emergency personnel can respond, the better the chances of positive outcomes.

He added that due to liability issues the city does not have lifeguards in place at either Okanagan or Skaha lakes and there are no talks about adding that service in the future. Lifeguards have not been used on public beaches here in recent memory.

According to statistics for the past five years, July and August are generally the busiest for marine rescue calls. In 2015 there were 17, 15 in 2014, 13 in 2013, 17 in 2012 and six in 2011

-With files from Mark Brett, Western News