Actions of Sylvan Lake firefighters, RCMP and civilians involved in the search for a man missing in the water off Centennial Park Saturday night were “nothing short of heroic”, RCMP Sgt. Michelle Boutin told town councillors Monday.
A 26-year-old Calgary man died in hospital the following afternoon as a result of the mishap. His name is not being released by RCMP.
At approximately 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sylvan Lake RCMP received a 911 call reporting a person outside the swim line at Sylvan Lake Provincial Park who appeared to be drowning.
Cpl. Kevin Halwa responded with an RCMP boat along with first responders from both Sylvan Lake Fire Department and Associated Ambulance Service. Other RCMP members and firefighters located witnesses on shore and were able to direct the boat to the location the victim had last been seen.
Off duty firefighter Jeff Moulton was just untarping his boat and it was seconded for use in transporting two firefighters and an Associated Ambulance EMT to the scene.
When emergency crews arrived at the area where the victim was last seen, witnesses said he had already been under water for several minutes and hadn’t been located. Emergency workers jumped into the water and with other civilians searched for the victim.
Deputy Fire Chief Steve Scanland said that as well as the eight firefighters and police officer who were in the water, approximately 10 civilians assisted in locating the missing man, some in kayaks or using a paddle board. (He requested that we not name the individual firefighters involved.)
The water was approximately 15 feet deep and visibility was very limited hampering the search, according to a news release from Halwa.
The victim was located laying on the lake bed, brought to the surface and loaded into one of the boats where CPR was initiated.
In the meantime, STARS air ambulance had been dispatched to Sylvan Lake and a landing site was set up on Lakeshore Drive east of 40th Street.
The victim was brought to shore and carried to an ambulance which was then escorted to Red Deer Regional Hospital by RCMP while STARS was diverted to the hospital.
While en route, the victim was able to regain a pulse and was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit, stated Halwa. He passed away Sunday afternoon.
Police determined, from witnesses, that the victim had been floating in a small inflatable boat when he and a female friend, both in their own boats, drifted to the edge of the marked swim area. Once there, the victim got out of his boat in an attempt to push the other boat back in the direction of the shore but struggled to re-enter his own boat. An attempt to rescue the victim was attempted by his friend but she was unsuccessful.
A quick thinking witness, who had been in the water nearby, ran to a nearby business and called 911 to summon help.
It was later determined the victim had been underwater for about 16-20 minutes prior to being located.
Boutin, in an interview Tuesday, said the RCMP were fortunate that Halwa, a qualified boat operator, was on duty and able to get the RCMP boat going as quickly as he did. Many times on an entire shift there’s no trained boat operator among officers working. Responding to Facebook criticism about the length of time in arriving at the scene, she said, as first responders their task is to be able to deploy quickly. “Without having a boat on the water 24-7 or officers on standby 24-7, there will be time delays.”
The RCMP detachment received a new zodiac style boat about two weeks ago and it’s based at Marina Bay. It replaced a previous boat that had been in service for many years. Sylvan Lake is used annually as a training site for RCMP boat operators who come from all parts of the province to participate.
Neither Scanland nor Grant Santo, regional operations manager with Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation, who’s responsible for the provincial park’s operation, could remember a drowning in the park since at least the 1980s.