Okanagan Lake Rescue 2016
The Vernon Search and Rescue (VSAR) team was called by RCMP to Okanagan Lake Friday afternoon to search for two missing individuals, who had rented a personal watercraft and were overdue.
Local high-wind weather conditions and large search area were factors that contributed towards the search being potentially dangerous and life-threatening for the subjects.
As the team members mobilized to launch the three VSAR response craft, information was gathered from the rental company and family members. It was determined that the two subjects were a father and son who were last seen at Ellison Park some three hours previous. Both were last seen wearing Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), and the father was an experienced boat operator.
The rental watercraft was located near Adventure Bay, several hundred meters offshore and drifting northward with the high waves and wind. The subjects were not with the machine, and the safety tether was not attached to the ignition.
A search was immediately conducted upwind from the machine's location. With 3-4 foot cresting waves and whitecaps, spotting an individual in the water was difficult, at best. Boats in the immediate vicinity were hailed in the hopes that they had noticed something that would help with the search.
Almost two kilometres upwind from the site where the abandoned watercraft was found, one of the search teams spotted a subject in the water. Waves were constantly rolling and crashing over him as he was rescued from the lake and brought aboard the search vessel. It was the missing father, and he was suffering from hypothermia.
At the same time, another VSAR vessel was approached by a civilian boat. They had located the missing son, and had him aboard.
Both subjects were safely brought to the Paddlewheel Park boat launch, where they were delivered to BC Ambulance Service care, and were treated for hypothermia and transported to Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
Further investigation determined that the two individuals had indeed been in the water for roughly three and a half hours. They had been thrown off the watercraft when they were caught sideways by a wave in the rough weather. The father had been hit in the head and was disoriented and at first, unable to swim aggressively. The son swam to his father and then tried to reach the SeaDoo but the waves kept pushing them farther apart. They both tried to swim to shore, but again, the waves were strong and the wind was blowing away from the shore. The same wind pushed their SeaDoo too far away to reach. Eventually, the son was able to swim towards shore, where he was found and rescued by the locals who were at their lakeside cabin. They were located approx. one km apart and both subjects were experienced swimmers.
As a result of this incident, Vernon SAR members would like to remind everyone that there are several precautions they can take that would prevent dramatic incidents such as this from happening;
- Always wear proper-fitting approved life jackets. They must be snug at the waist and chest straps and not be able to float above your face while in the water. The father and son did the right thing by wearing their life jackets. 3 hours in the water would not have been possible if they hadn't been!
- Take notice of local weather conditions and forecasts, and adapt your activities accordingly.
- Prepare for the unexpected, such as the watercraft you are using breaking down
- Always keep friends or family informed of your plans, so that a rapid search response can be conducted if and when something goes wrong.
- If there is an emergency, call 911 for emergency services
VSAR was happy to conclude such a successful rescue incident, and would like to thank the close teamwork of Okanagan Rentals, Vernon RCMP, BCAS and concerned citizens who all made the happy ending to this unfortunate incident possible.