A year with Kent Harrison Search and Rescue

KHSAR reflects on some of the biggest rescues and recoveries of 2017

With an average of one call a week and a huge move into its new search and rescue building on Industrial Way in Agassiz, 2017 has been another busy year for Kent Harrison Search and Rescue (KHSAR).

In 2016, KHSAR volunteers spent 1,920 hours on incident responses, 3,400 hours on training and 1,300 on various other support activities, for a total of 6,620 hours.

While the totals for 2017 aren’t in yet, KHSAR manager Neil Brewer expects them to be equal to, if not more than, the hours tallied for 2016.

“The members could not do this without the support of their families, and for this we thank you,” he said.

Of the over 50 incidents KHSAR responded to in 2017, Brewer reflects below on KHSAR’s most notable rescues and recoveries of the year.

Ammonite Falls, Nanaimo

The first large search of the year took place near Nanaimo in late January. A Victoria teenager went for a day hike with his family to Ammonite Falls Regional Park. He ran ahead of the group and couldn’t be found.

A search was initiated after police alerted Nanaimo Search and Rescue to the incident that evening. The search continued the following day with no success, so a call went out for more resources and a search manager from KHSAR was requested.

Four Kent Harrison members travelled to Nanaimo that afternoon and prepared for the search the next day.

With the family and several media outlets on site, searchers from all over the island and Lower Mainland gathered, and search assignments were dispatched to comb through a large wooded area.

A helicopter was dispatched to search the outlying areas with an infra-red camera (FLIR). As the helicopter was returning, they spotted someone in the creek, several kilometres upstream from the falls. It turned out to be the missing teen. He had survived two nights in temperatures near zero with only light clothing, but was in relatively good shape. He was reunited with his family shortly after noon.

Harrison Lake

The evening of March 7 saw the first significant task for the Harrison Osprey, KHSAR’s rescue boat. Four loggers became stranded on the north shore of Harrison Lake, near the channel to Port Douglas.

The group had been dropped off by helicopter earlier in the day to survey a cut block, but poor weather grounded the aircraft and it was unable to pick them up.

The four were not equipped to spend the night in sub-zero temperatures and snow, so they sent out a request for help. The Harrison Osprey located the men at 9 p.m. that night in a blizzard and was able to safely transport them back to Harrison.

Statlu Falls

One of KHSAR’s most challenging incidents of 2017 involved two fatalities at Statlu Falls, a remote waterfall at Statlu Lake in the north Chehalis area. It began with a media story about a missing Vancouver couple who were last seen at the Harrison Resort July 8.

An RCMP investigation led them to believe the couple could be located either at Mt. Cheam or Statlu Falls based on browsing history from their computer. KHSAR was called on July 12 to search the upper Chehalis area for the subjects’ vehicle. The GMC pickup truck was located at 11:20 that morning at what was identified as the new Statlu Falls trailhead.

Teams were immediately deployed to search the top of the falls and the river leading up to the falls. Chilliwack Search and Rescue were also asked to assist as resources were low during the week.

A pair of sunglasses located near the edge of the falls were confirmed to be the same model belonging to the female subject. At 6 p.m., the team in the river found a black backpack in a pool below a small waterfall. Identification in an inside pocket indicated that it belonged to the male subject. These initial findings led the focus of the search to the deep canyon below the falls.

This area involved some very hazardous terrain. The 300-metre-long canyon below the falls has vertical rock walls over 60 metres high. Snow melting in the alpine made water flow high enough that the river was inaccessible above where the backpack was located.

The search continued over the next 10 days and the male subject’s body was recovered by RCMP divers on July 18. In the same deep pool below the falls, a diver found a wallet belonging to the female subject. The search was suspended on July 23 after an extensive search of the general area.

On Sept. 23, after the river flow rate had diminished, KHSAR volunteers returned to the area and located human remains in the river below the canyon. The remains were later confirmed to be those of the female subject. Ironically, KHSAR responded to the same location over 15 years ago when three young men lost their lives over three consecutive years.

This was a very complex and challenging search in a dangerous remote location. Seven Fraser Valley SAR groups were involved in the response. KHSAR members spent over 700 hours on this incident alone. While it was a tragic incident in which two people lost their lives, SAR volunteers and the RCMP were able to provide closure for the families.

Bear Creek

On Aug. 12, KHSAR was called to assist in the rescue of a male subject who had sustained a fall below the waterfall at Bear Creek. Although not far from the logging road, the stretcher evacuation was difficult due to the large boulders in the creek. The injured subject was carried to a waiting medevac helicopter staged on the beach below the camp site.

Harrison Lake

On the evening of Aug. 18, a boat with two people on board collided with the rocky shoreline of Camille Island on Harrison Lake. The pair suffered significant injuries in the incident. KHSAR’s 38-foot rescue boat, the “Harrison Osprey,” performed the rescue, which was made difficult due to the angle of the vessel and the risk of it overturning.

Harrison Osprey

The official naming ceremony for the Harrison Osprey was performed on Aug. 30. After almost a year after launching, the group completed the final step by following ancient maritime traditions in renaming the vessel from the “Robert’s Bank Lifeboat” to the “Harrison Osprey.”

Harrison Lake

Another tragic incident occurred in Harrison on Sept. 3, when two young men drowned in Harrison Lake, barely 30 feet from shore. The pair was wading into the lake when they seemingly encountered deeper water.

In spite of attempts by onlookers, the two men could not be located.

KHSAR volunteers combed the surface of the water for several hours in the general area where they were last seen with no sign of the subjects. SAR volunteers assisted RCMP divers the following day in the successful recovery of the bodies.

Sowaqua Creek

December is often a quieter month for KHSAR. The group was requested to assist Hope SAR on the evening of Dec. 9 following reports of a person injured on the Sowaqua Creek forest service road, off the Coquihalla Highway.

As more information surfaced, it became clear that there were two males, both hunters, who had fallen into a steep ravine over 10 kilometres from the highway.

Further complicating the rescue, the informant was unable to lead SAR members to the location where the subjects were. Chilliwack SAR was also called for assistance, but the subjects still could not be located in extremely dangerous terrain.

Eventually, the call went out to 442 Squadron in Comox for assistance, where a helicopter capable of night flying is located.

The Cormorant arrived on scene several hours later and was able to locate the subjects after hovering in the ravine for almost an hour.

Two military SAR technicians were lowered into the ravine by winch, where they packaged the two males and hoisted them out. They were flown to hospital. SAR members left Hope at 6 a.m. after being deployed for 12 hours.

New SAR building

Although the team had moved in June, the official opening of the new KHSAR building on Industrial Way in Agassiz was held Oct. 28. District of Kent Mayor John Van Laerhoven and KHSAR president Marvin Anderson performed the ribbon-cutting.

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