An RCMP dive team will try again today to locate three New Denver area youths whose canoe overturned on Slocan Lake, but police are now calling it “a recovery mission.”
The mishap Saturday claimed the life of Lily Harmer-Taylor, 19, while Jule Wiltshire-Padfield, 15, Hayden Kyle, 21, and Skye Donnet, 18, remain missing.
“At this point due to the circumstances involved, cold water, distance from shore, the depth of the lake and length of time since they were last seen this [is] now being considered a recovery mission,” RCMP Sgt. Darryl Little said Monday.
The lake temperature is 1.1 degrees Celsius. The spot where the canoe submerged was initially estimated to be 250 feet (76 meters) deep, but Little said they have since learned it is closer to 480 feet (146 meters), “making any recovery more difficult.”
The four youths were paddling north from New Denver to Rosebery where two of them lived. None had lifejackets on. The cause of the mishap is unknown — conditions were good when they set out. Searches by air and boat to date have not turned up any sign of them.
An eight-member RCMP dive team assembled from around the province joined the search Monday morning, using underwater cameras. Given the temperature, each diver can only spend limited time in the water. A police helicopter also scanned the lake and shoreline.
They dove both in the morning and afternoon, concentrating on Bigelow Bay and working from the shore toward deeper water. They will try again this morning. RCMP will also conduct another aerial search.
Little dispelled rumours that the helicopter spotted three bodies in the water: “This is not the case. As one might guess this has caused a lot of anguish in the community.”
Meanwhile, the man whose canoe the youths borrowed described them as “wonderful kids.”
“They were really full of life and fun. Just marvellous people,” Dan Nicholson, publisher of the Valley Voice, said Monday. “It’s a huge loss.”
All four lived in the New Denver area although Kyle was originally from Gibsons. Kyle and Harmer-Taylor both lived with Nicholson’s family in Rosebery, while Donnet lived with them for a while when he was younger.
Nicholson said he knew all of them except Kyle since infancy, as they were friends of his own kids. Each had one parent living locally and another somewhere else and they “bounced back and forth.”
Kyle had been staying with Nicholson’s family for a couple of months. He moved from the Sunshine Coast to Nelson where he worked on a demolition job with Donnet, and the two became close friends.
Once the job ended, Kyle needed a place to live, and asked Nicholson if they had a spare room. They agreed he could stay with them until he got himself back on his feet.
Harmer-Taylor and Wiltshire-Padfield were a couple and planning to hitchhike to Regina to see her father. She was just finishing high school in New Denver. Last fall, Nicholson and his wife offered her a place to stay.
On Saturday, the four took the canoe from Nicholson’s porch, but left the lifejackets sitting in the mud room. He said they didn’t tell him they were taking it, although he’s never had any problem with them using it. “They’re 15 to 21. They don’t tell me everything they’re doing. If they’d asked, of course I would have said ‘Yes — be sure to grab the lifejackets.’”
Nicholson knows they reached New Denver and spent a few hours in town, because he saw some of them there. The tragedy occurred on the return trip.
He believes the three locals were experienced canoeists. “They grew up on this side of the lake. They weren’t perhaps the strongest swimmers, but I always felt they could handle themselves in the water. I don’t know if Hayden could swim or paddle.”
At about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Nicholson’s son felt unwell, so he took him to the local hospital. When he got home, he saw several emergency vehicles go by. Minutes later, Donnet’s mother phoned to ask if he knew what was going on.
Soon after, he went outside and met the mother of the local search and rescue leader who told him that Harmer-Taylor was in trouble and suggested that he return to the hospital.
“They brought her in and tried to warm her up,” Nicholson said. “They worked on her for five hours. They tried the defibrillator several times.”
But to no avail: Harmer-Taylor died overnight.
Last evening, a large group met for a healing ceremony. “There was a fire down on the beach and people put candles out into the water. They threw wreathes,” Nicholson said. “It’s devastating. It’s incredibly tragic.”
In a written statement, New Denver mayor Ann Bunka said her community and all others along Slocan Lake are “reeling” from the tragedy.
“This is a small community and every accident and loss is personal. This is a close knit community that rallies together in times of need and never has this been more apparent,” she said. “The outpouring of assistance to do whatever is needed is a trademark of this community and in times of loss is a reminder of why we live here.”
Bunka thanked the local fire department, BC Ambulance, RCMP, and search and rescue for their help and noted counselling is available to anyone who needs it.