A near drowning in the Columbia River has Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs considering pulling the swim buoy at Gyro Park’s beach closer to shore.
Trail resident Bonny Leighton and Genelle’s Darrin Falat just happened to be out for a leisurely jet ski Monday when swimmers flagged them down. A 15-year-old girl was swept under the rope and into the middle of the mighty river and a rescue from a Good Samaritan was looking grim.
Meanwhile, the teen’s friend managed to escape the Columbia’s current and was holding onto the rope barrier for dear life.
“When we pulled up on the jet ski, they were screaming and I thought it was because they thought we might be a bit close but no, the guy who had a hold of the girl was near exhaustion and going down,” recalled Leighton.
“I gave the gentleman my life jacket and put the girl on the jet ski and pulled her into shore and ended up calling 911.”
Twenty-two-year-old Richie Vlanich was among the five men at the beach who brought the 15-year-old’s friend to safety.
“It was not looking too good for them,” said Vlanich, who approached three men linked arms, attempting to rescue the girl.
The Trail resident spotted a tree sticking out of the river and grabbed a hold of it. Using it as an anchor, he linked up with the men and another man came along and tugged at the log and brought the crew to safety.
By the time the Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Rescue launched their rescue boat into the river, the two girls were already on the shore – one shaken up for her friend and the other hypothermic and suffering from burn marks on her chest from the rope and a blow to the head.
“They have the rope out way too far and I’d like to see something done about it,” said Leighton, a Level III first aid.
“Somebody is going to die. If we hadn’t been there, there’s no way they would have been able to make it back – especially with the current running that fast. We could have had a double, maybe even a triple tragedy there.”
Residents rescue two girls on Monday
The Columbia is moving “100,000 per cubic feet per second” and is about 30 feet deep right now, according to city foreman Warren Proulx, who added that the river hasn’t been this high in a decade.
Though the water level did drop by about five feet over the past couple months, the water is still 2.4 metres higher now than it was around the same time last year.
“With the 150 per cent snow pack and then the very slow spring that we had, it’s just really melting now in the high mountains,” agreed Bogs. “That’s the problem with these higher water levels, the swiftness of the river gets closer and closer to the beach.”
Bogs has directed staff to review the location of the rope in lieu of this recent incident and another similar one that occurred in late July, when a boy was swept under the rope but rescued by a strong swimmer.
“Generally speaking with these higher water levels, people need to be very careful –particularly with children and young adults who tend to like a dare,” he said. “The river is dangerous, it is very fast flowing and still high enough that you have to use caution and watch your children.”
The swim buoy that runs across the small bay opening at the beach was installed in 2008, when the river claimed two lives. One man died after jumping into “the onions” on New Year’s Day, and in March, a six-year-old boy fell into the river and died at the hospital a few hours after being rescued.
Traditionally used to identify a safe swimming area, Leighton wonders why the City hadn’t adjusted the buoy to meet the current conditions.
“It gives you a false sense of security,” she said. “Even if you’re a parent on the beach, you’re thinking your kids are inbounds and that they’re going to be OK.”