FILE - The RCMP dive team recovers the vehicle involved in a fatal crash on Nov. 5, 2019 in Harrison. Harrison Search and Rescue manager Neil Brewer said the incident was the first time his team had seen a vehicle go off that setion of forest service road and enter the lake. (John Allen/Contributed)

Kent Harrison Search and Rescue looks back on 2019

Two serious incidents on Harrison Lake stood out for Search and Rescue manager Neil Brewer

The 28 members of the Kent Harrison Search and Rescue (KHSAR) team responded to 46 incidents in 2019, around the average of 45.

However, two of those incidents stood out as being anything but average, said search and rescue manager Neil Brewer.

Both occurred at Harrison Lake, though only one involved a boat.

On Aug. 4, 2019 around 11 p.m., a boat with three people on board — two adults and a young girl — collided with cliff face on Echo Island.

RELATED: Two taken to hospital after midnight boat crash on Harrison Lake

“We still don’t know why they collided,” Brewer told the Observer, adding that he believes the trio may have been heading to a cottage. “They basically smashed into a rock face at full speed. It’s very, very lucky that there weren’t any fatalities.”

The two adults were seriously injured, although the child, “amazingly,” was not.

He said the situation would have been much worse if not for a small rock outcrop at the base of the cliff, which allowed the girl and one of the adults to get out of the water.

Residents at a cottage near the island heard the trio screaming for help, and in turn called the RCMP. Shortly after, the Harrison Osprey and the Shearwater arrived at the southwest shore.

“It was a fairly dramatic rescue because if it hadn’t have been for that little ledge — I’m talking a foot wide — they wouldn’t have survived,” Brewer said.

“We were just mystified how they could collide into such a large island like that.”

RELATED: Kent-Harrison SAR manager honoured with provincial award

According to Kent Harrison Search and Rescue manager Neil Brewer, volunteers logged 5,455 hours in 2019. Of those hours, 2,848 were spent on training, 1,660 were spent on incident responses, and 947 were spent on community events, maintenance and administration. (Grace Kennedy photo)

The other incident at the lake involved a vehicle and unfortunately, two lives were lost.

On Nov. 3, Agassiz RCMP and the KHSAR team were called to the lake after an SUV veered off the Harrison East Forest Service Road.

“They got into a soft shoulder on the road, and ended up smashing down through the trees and then down at least a 100-foot cliff, down into Harrison Lake,” Brewer said. “I think they’d been camping somewhere.”

A girl who had been sitting in the backseat survived, but her boyfriend and another male were both found dead in the front.

“She spent the night in the vehicle,” Brewer said of the girl, adding that although the SUV was in the water, it was not submerged. “In the morning she managed to get out of the vehicle. She crawled to the shore … and managed to flag down somebody in a passing boat.”

RELATED: Two killed when SUV veers into Harrison Lake

Brewer has been involved with SAR for 30 years, but said the incident was one of the worst he’s seen.

“It was bad,” he said. “We’ve never seen a vehicle go off the road like that and end up in the lake. There’s usually something between the road and the lake.

“This car — it was like pinball down through the trees.”

All told, SAR recorded five fatalities in 2019.

RELATED: RCMP dive team recovers vehicle from Harrison Lake

Looking ahead

In 2020, Brewer said KHSAR will be looking to complete upgrades to some of its equipment.

For example, the team will be using some of the three-year funding announced by the province in 2018 and applying for additional grant money to help replace the 20-foot Shearwater life boat.

“It’s a fantastic boat for the lake, however, it’s not able to beach on a gravel beach,” Brewer said.

“Particularly with those two incidents [on Harrison Lake] … it was a real struggle to get the injured people on the boat from the shore.”

The team plans to sell the Shearwater and purchase a 24-foot landing craft-style boat instead.

They also plan to complete their new command vehicle by mid-March as well as refurbish their logistics trailer.

“I’d hoped [the command vehicle] would have been in service by now, but the resources we have to do the outfitting are somewhat limited,” he said.

RELATED: Kent Harrison Search and Rescue looks back on 2018

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