A Dutch woman drowned after falling into the river at Elk Falls, according to Campbell River RCMP. Elaine Hall, a visitor from Langford, took this picture of first responders at the scene.

Woman’s death at Elk Falls the latest tragedy at hazardous site

A Dutch woman was touring the Island with her husband when she fell into the river

A tourist from the Netherlands drowned at Elk Falls on Thursday, the latest death at a location that has claimed the lives of several people over the years.

The woman, who was touring Vancouver Island with her husband, appears to have slipped into the river after trying to recover an apple, said Cpl. Ron Vlooswyk, a police spokesperson.

“I believe it was an apple that was in the water and she tried to grab for it,” he said. “That’s what caused her to slip and fall.”

The Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad reported that the woman, whose name hasn’t been released, was from the central Netherlands town of Houten, and that she was 56 years old, although Campbell River RCMP said on Thursday that she was in her 60s.

Police said that at 2:20 p.m. on Thursday they received a report about a woman being sucked into the water near Elk Falls. That report, made by a third party, was unclear because “the husband could speak only broken English,” according to an RCMP media release.

“We could understand that somebody was under the water at Elk Falls,” said Vlooswyk. “Police immediately scrambled, got down and began the search of the area to get more details.”

They found the man near the falls.

“He said that his wife had slipped and fell into the water,” Vlooswyk said. “She yelled for help and then that was the last he saw of her.”

Vlooswyk said that police immediately notified BC Hydro, which shut down water flows at the John Hart Dam, which is located just upstream, to help search efforts.

An RCMP helicopter and a drone both scanned the water.

First responders at the scene included police, fire, search and rescue, and ambulance services. BC Hydro staff were also present.

Elk Falls is located just a few kilometres west of Campbell River. Image from Google Maps

Hikers were sent away from Elk Falls Park by first responders on Thursday afternoon as the search took place.

At around 4 p.m., police cordoned off the trail leading to the falls from Brewster Lake Road.

A helicopter could be heard making repeated passes in the canyon, and a group of tourists returning from a hike said there were at least 25 rescuers at the scene.

The woman’s body was found in the area above the falls. She was recovered from the water at 5 p.m., Vlooswyk said. She appears to have become stuck in the fast-moving waters above the falls, he said.

A Dutch-speaking police officer was brought in to support the husband, according to the RCMP. The police are also liaising with the Dutch consulate to support the family. Meanwhile, the BC Coroner is taking over the investigation.

The RCMP deployed a helicopter after a woman disappeared into the river at Elk Falls. Photo by Elaine Hall

Vlooswyk extended his sympathies on behalf of the local police, adding that it’s not the first time this kind of tragedy has occurred at Elk Falls.

“I’ve personally been out there on similar incidents where somebody has slipped on the water, but they have actually gone over the falls,” he said.

In 2006, a man from Nanaimo was swept over the falls and died after trying to get a glass of water from the river. Another tourist from the Netherlands met the same fate in 2011 while trying to take photos near the falls.

An investigation by the BC Coroners Service and a review of the site by BC Parks following those deaths led to new safety measures in 2012, including hazard signage with international symbols for falling, swift currents and waterfalls. The suspension bridge at Elk Falls, which opened in 2015, was also meant to provide a view of the falls from a safe distance.

The latest incident took place just hours after BC Hydro issued a public safety notice telling people to stay away from Elk Falls due to higher water flows that were due to begin at 2 a.m. Friday.

BC Hydro said in a statement released on Thursday morning that it planned to increase water flows threefold that night following a malfunction at the old John Hart generating station, and advised the public to stay away from Elk Falls through Aug. 10.

The statement added that safety signage would be installed on Thursday.