Vancouver Island man receives medal for bravery during 2020 river rescue

Vancouver Island man receives medal for bravery during 2020 river rescue
A video of the rescue in 2020 is shown.

A search and rescue volunteer was honoured on Saturday for his role in what was one of the most dangerous rescues ever performed by volunteers on Vancouver Island.

In December 2020, a man fell into the frigid, fast-flowing waters of Little Qualicum River, just north of Parksville.

He was heading down the river towards a 37-metre (120-foot) waterfall, but managed to cling to the side of a log.

That’s when a team of volunteers from Arrowsmith Search and Rescue (SAR) showed up. To pull the man out of the river, SAR manager Nick Rivers was lowered into the water through a highly technical and complex rope system.

“The water was flowing intensely. It’s mind-blowing, really, the power the water has,” Rivers told CHEK News in 2020. “That water was really powerful and really flowing and I kept getting knocked off.”

He says he was able to swim upstream towards the man, just as the man lost his grip on the log and began flowing down the river towards the waterfall.

“He was headed right for the waterfall, so I jumped after him, swam, and grabbed him,” said Rivers. “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.”

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Nick Rivers is seen with the man being pulled out of the water. (Submitted)

Rivers described the rescue as the “most intense” one he was ever involved with, adding that if he had let go, the man would have been swept up in the river and down the waterfall.

“It was a pretty high-risk rescue,” Rivers said. “It is a pretty stressful situation to be in.”

The video of the rescue and CHEK’s 2020 coverage can be found viewed below:

READ MORE: ‘He was headed right for the waterfall’: Man rescued from Little Qualicum River

Governor General’s award

The rescue received international attention, and on Saturday, nearly four years later, Rivers was awarded with the Governor General’s Decoration for Bravery for his role in the rescue.

The award is handed out in recognition of “acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances,” such as potential drownings, burning buildings or vehicle accidents.

“The biggest rescue that we as an organization have ever had since doing search and rescue work, in 1966 is when we started,” said Rivers on Saturday after the ceremony. “It was the biggest rescue, most intense in many ways.”

He added that it was the rescue of a lifetime and a total team effort, and that he’s grateful for the award.

“I feel very privileged to be honoured that way,” said Rivers.

With files from Nicholas Pescod and CHEK’s Dean Stoltz

Nick Rivers is pictured at the ceremony on April 20, 2024. (CHEK News)

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