It was a harrowing afternoon for a group of tubers, floating down the Puntledge River on Thursday, July 5.
The foursome – presumably a family – veered left when they should have veered right, and ended up clinging to the branches of a large, fallen shore-side tree, in a fast-flowing area of the river.
By the time first responders arrived on scene, one of the four had managed to get to shore, with three others – including a toddler-aged child – still in the water.
“We got a called about four swimmers in the river. When we arrived on scene, we had visuals of three of the four, attached to a tree,” said Greg Lamb, of the Courtenay Fire Department. “We were able to make contact to the RCMP through a cellphone which the fourth swimmer had, [who was] on shore.”
“What looked like what happened, is there’s an island down the middle of the river, and most people go down the right side, and they actually took the left side,” said Ashley Birley, who witnessed the incident unfold. “It’s shallow, but the river is running pretty fast right now, so I could see how [it could happen]… the little girl looked very young.”
Of the three still in the water when first responders arrived, the toddler was the only one wearing a personal flotation device (PFD).
All members of the party eventually managed to get themselves out of the water, at which point they were met by first responders and led along the shoreline to safety.
Paul Berry of Comox Valley Ground Search & Rescue said that while the situation played out rather innocuously, it could have been a tragic outcome.
“The four individuals were swept off their inner tube and felt that they were trapped in the river, so at that point the call was made for a rescue,” he said. “It [turned out] relatively benign, but given the water levels and given the amount of debris in the river, this is a situation that could have played out very, very differently.
“Even in flows like this, with the amount of logs and things that we have in the river, it’s very possible for someone to get trapped against that, and not to be able to get off. And in the water you only have a few minutes.”
He added that while it was good to see the toddler was wearing a PFD, it’s dangerous for anyone to travel down the river without proper protection.
“Great to see this young girl did have a life-jacket on – the outcome could have been very different had she not – but we want people to be safe. We know that the Puntledge is used regularly, so a good-quality inner tube… going in groups, and making sure that they are being as safe as they possibly can.”