A man is lucky to be alive after falling more than 20 metres into a Vancouver Island river over the weekend.
Arrowsmith Search and Rescue crews were called to Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park at around 3 p.m. Saturday after learning that a man in his 30s needed to be rescued from the Little Qualicum River.
Nick Rivers, search manager with Arrowsmith SAR, told CHEK News the man had fallen approximately 25 metres into the river and had been holding onto a log for roughly an hour before his team arrived.
“When we got there, we found an individual clinging to a log in the river in between to the two falls — below the upper falls and at right at the mouth of the lower falls section — about 15 feet upstream from the lower falls,” Rivers explained.
After an extremely dangerous, technically challenging and dramatic rope rescue, which was captured on video, Rivers along with the rest of the Arrowsmith SAR team were able to rescue the man.
“It was a pretty high-risk rescue,” Rivers said. “It is a pretty stressful situation to be in.”
The man was eventually handed off to BC Ambulance Service who transported the man, who had unknown injuries, to a nearby hospital.
“He’s lucky to be alive,” Rivers said.
‘Headed right for the waterfall’
Shortly after Arrowsmith SAR arrived on scene they quickly established a rope system and lowered Rivers down into the freezing waters to rescue the man, who at this point was still clinging onto a log.
“I attempted first to get upstream along one of the logs, so I could enter the river and float downstream to the log he was on and then try to get him on the harness on the log,” recalled Rivers.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work and Rivers had to find another way to reach the man.
“The water was flowing intensely. It’s mindblowing, really, the power the water has,” Rivers explained. “That water was really powerful and really flowing and I kept getting knocked off.”
After a few moments, Rivers managed to position himself below where the man was — near the top edge of the lower falls — and began swimming towards him.
“I tried to swim upstream towards the log he was on and I finally made some progress and I am yelling ‘Don’t move, don’t move, don’t move,'” said Rivers.
But before Rivers could reach the log, the man lost his grip and fell further into the water. The force of the water was so powerful that it immediately began carrying the man towards the waterfall.
“He was headed right for the waterfall,” Rivers explained. “So, I jumped after him, swam and grabbed him. I just held on as tight as I could while the team up top hauled me into a safe part of the river on the rope system.”
The most ‘intense’ rescue
Eventually, after a few dramatic moments, Arrowsmith SAR crews managed to pull Rivers and the man out of the water and onto land.
“There were points in time where I was being held underwater but I knew that the only keeping him from going over the next set of falls was me holding him,” Rivers recalled. “I did everything I could to hold onto him.”
Arrowsmith SAR isn’t sure how the man managed to fall into the river or the full extent of his injuries.
“He had some scrapes and some scratches and definitely some significant injuries,” Rivers said, later adding. “To be honest, I have no idea how he got in that pool. I have no clue.
Rivers considers the man extremely lucky and called it the most “the most intense rescue” Arrowsmith SAR has ever carried out.
“I don’t particularly feel this way, but I have had a lot of colleagues throughout the province sending me notes saying that is the most intense rescue they’ve ever seen take place,” he said. “It was an incredible thing to pull off.”
“As much as we train for it and we do all this stuff, we do hope not to use it,” he added.
Technically challenging rescues becoming more common in B.C.
Rivers said extremely challenging and technically difficult rescue efforts are becoming more and more common in British Columbia.
“We are seeing a very upward trend of these,” he said. “In the last five years, every year we get the most technical rescue. Each year, the envelope is getting bumped.”
One of the reasons for the rise, says Rivers, is social media — with more people wanting to take selfies in picturesque settings that aren’t always the safest locations.
“That happens a lot,” he said. “I am not saying that is what happened in this case, but provincially speaking, it happens a lot. Harrison Hot Springs, people like to get out on the edge and take that selfie with the waterfall and it claims the lives of many people each year.”
On Vancouver Island, there aren’t many rescuers with the certified training credentials to carry out such a technically challenging rescue like the one in Little Qualicum Falls.
According to BC Adventure Smart, an organization dedicated to educating people about how to act safely while outdoors, there are three words — cold, clear, and inviting — that are often used to describe the vast and various bodies of water around the province.
Meanwhile, Rivers says while SARs are there to help, people should be mindful about what they are doing when they are out in nature.
“Accidents happen and that’s why we are here, but everyone needs to think about the worst-case scenario,” Rivers said. “It’s not just about you, someone else is going to risk their lives to go down there and save you.”