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Fallen tree removed from river, but danger remains
Five days earlier, six young friends fought for survival after being swept under a fallen tree in the fast-moving Campbell River.
A few of the boys could have easily drowned after their tubing trip went horribly wrong on the afternoon of June 12.
But now they were back, trying to conquer their own fears and doing much more to rid the river of a fallen maple tree.
“It’s nerve-racking getting back to this spot. It’s bringing back the memories and it’s got my heart pumping,” admits 16-year-old Blaine Olney.
Tyler Scorgie, 16, sums up his gut feeling in two words, “Pretty sketchy.”
Nevertheless, they were back on Friday, by the water’s edge, lending their muscle to the day-long task of cutting and hauling the dangerous tree from the north side of the river, a few hundred metres downstream of the John Hart Generating Station.
“I think this is a good idea and it’s pretty fun, but it is a little scary next to the water,” says Bailey Boschman.
Joining them were buddies Ryan Chickite, Landon Walters and the soft-spoken Todd French, who was acknowledged as the hero of the group after his calm instructions helped the boys free themselves during the terrifying ordeal.
Tagging along with the group was their friend Hayden Arbour as the seven teens worked alongside volunteers from Campbell River Search and Rescue, Jamie Turko, Keith Grier and George May, along with Steve Harding of Timberwolf Tree Service.
“This is worse than climbing trees!” quips Harding, just after climbing out on the fallen tree, over the moving water, and cutting branches with his chainsaw.
Harding, a former long-time member of search and rescue, wasn’t paid a dime for his work – “just free pizza” – but knew someone had to volunteer to get rid of the maple which came down during a winter storm mudslide.
“It’s pretty crucial to get this out of here before something tragic happens,” he says.
Two weeks earlier, Turko, who also works as a river rafting guide, predicted the fallen tree would pose a risk to tubers and snorkelers.
And just two days after his warning story appeared in local newspapers, the six boys went tubing and got caught in the tree.
“The lifejackets saved us for sure,” notes Walters.
Slowly and methodically, the fallen tree – known as a “strainer” – is de-limbed and cut down into chunks. Turko’s wearing a wetsuit and climbs into the cold water to tie a line around the pieces and then the seven teens pull together on the rope to haul the limbs and trunk onto the muddy bank.
“It’s a relief to see it gone,” says Olney.
But danger remains just below the surface. In the middle of the river lies a root wad that is lodged and cannot be freed or hauled out.
“There’s still a major hazard here,” warns Turko. “The current is way too fast. Hopefully when the water goes down to summer flows we can get at it, but there’s nothing we can do today.”