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Helicopter plucks girl off deadly “strainer”

August 9, 2012  By Dan MacLennan Campbell River Courier-Islander

Aug. 9, 2012, Campbell River, B.C. - As predicted earlier, a tree down in the Campbell River caused problems for inner tubers Thursday.

Fortunately, the crew of an RCAF Cormorant Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopter from Comox was nearby to rescue a German girl from the tree, in the first of two dramatic back-to-back rescues.

Shortly After 3 p.m., the girl and three others tubing the river hit the large spruce just upstream from the pumphouse and were spilled into the water, RCMP said. The three others were able to make it to shore but the girl remained trapped on the log.

"Fortunately the child was wearing a PFD," said Campbell River RCMP Cst. Ian Gammie. The current around the tree formed a very dangerous undertow.

The tree, or "strainer", had been previously reported as a hazard by Destiny River Adventures owner Jamie Turko, and by Campbell River Search and Rescue in the Courier-Islander.


BC Hydro had earlier blocked public access to the upper river because of concerns about the large spruce, which blew down across the river in March, but river access from the John Hart Generating Station had been restored last month after the tree shifted to point downstream. High river flows were reduced by Hydro starting last week to make way for a spawning gravel placement project as well.

A fisherman in the river called 911 on his cell phone, triggering a response from RCMP and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Victoria. The Cormorant crew from CFB Comox's 442 Squadron was already in the air when the incident occurred. The crew were doing training exercises near Powell River when the call came in around 3: 20.

"We were on scene in 20 minutes," said Captain Luc Coates, aircraft commander. "We flew up the river and spotted her very easily. She was wearing a red life-jacket and there were many anglers in the area alerting us."

Once overhead, Search and Rescue Technician (SAR Tech) MasterCorporal Alexandre Demers was hoisted down from a height of 200 feet.

"She was very calm, despite speaking only German" said MCpl. Demers. "The Flight Engineer (Warrant Officer Phillipe Robin) did a great job of hoisting me down right next to the log. I did my best to explain what was going to happen, put the rescue collar on her and we were hoisted up quickly."

With the girl on board, the chopper flew to the Campbell River Airport where the young girl was transferred to BC Ambulance as a precaution.

As the helicopter was refueling at the airport, JRCC Victoria received a distress call from a group of hikers on the Island's tallest peak, the Golden Hinde, in Strathcona Park. The hikers had activated their emergency beacon, indicating that one of them had fallen and required evacuation from a cliff face at an altitude of 5000 feet.

The helicopter arrived in the area at approximately 4: 30 p.m.

"An RCMP helicopter was already in the area and they were able to tell us where the hikers were," said Capt. Coates. "It saved us a lot of time and made things really efficient."

Despite the spray from a nearby waterfall obscuring the crew's view, the two SAR Techs and a rescue litter were hoisted onto the mountainside.

"The hiker had fallen about 45 feet down a steep snow slope. The hiker's friends had done a good job of treating the injuries and it really helped us out," said Sergeant Robin Richardson, SAR Tech. "We put the patient in the litter and hoisted him out."

The two other hikers were also hoisted off the mountain. The injured hiker was brought to 19 Wing, CFB Comox, transferred into the care of BC Ambulance in stable condition and taken to hospital in Comox.

Meanwhile, Campbell River RCMP would like to remind the public of the danger posed by swift moving water.


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