Two deaths in Sea to Sky region amid increased B.C. outdoor recreation fatalities during pandemic

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      With numerous travel concerns and restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, many British Columbians have instead opted for local travel and recreation this summer. That shift has led to more people heading into the great outdoors, and has also included some individuals venturing into areas or trying out new activities that they previously may have not.

      Unfortunately, some of these excursions, among both experienced and inexperienced individuals, have ended in tragedy.

      This past weekend, two such fatal incidents took place, and a third person was injured, in the Sea to Sky region involving individuals from Metro Vancouver.

      Sunshine Coast RCMP stated that B.C. Emergency Health Services contacted police around 4 p.m. on September 6 for assistance after a male in medical distress was located in the water off the northern end of Keats Island in Howe Sound.

      Paramedics, Coast Guard, police, and the Gibsons Fire Department all attended to help at the Gibsons government dock but the male was pronounced dead.

      The man, in his 40s and from Richmond, had been aboard a boat charter with friends. While he had gone swimming, he went into distress.

      The B.C. Coroners Service is investigating the cause of death.

      Squamish RCMP

      In a separate incident, Squamish RCMP, B.C. Ambulance, and Squamish Search and Rescue (SAR) received a call at 11:30 a.m. on September 4 about a female hiking partner who had fallen into Crooked Falls near near Sigurd Lake.

      Squamish SAR located the 25-year-old woman from Surrey clinging to a log about 70 feet from the lookout point.

      Rescuers navigated dangerous conditions to extract her from the waterfall.

      She sustained serious injuries and B.C. Air Ambulance flew her to a Lower Mainland hospital.

      Then around 2:20 p.m. on September 6, Squamish RCMP and SAR received notification about a woman who had fallen down a rock field and cliff face on Sigurd Peak off the Sigurd Trail loop.

      She had been hiking with a partner on a steep technical portion when she slipped on the rocks and fell a significant distance.

      Squamish RCMP, with assistance from the B.C. RCMP Air 5 helicopter, and SAR searched for the woman, and located her. Unfortunately, she had died from her injuries, and her body was retrieved.

      Her name is not being released at this time. Squamish RCMP and the B.C. Coroners Service is conducting a joint investigation. 

      Squamish RCMP Sgt. Sascha Banks reminded those venturing into B.C.’s outdoors isn’t the same as a stroll in a park.

      "Our Sea to Sky backcountry is not for beginners and even those of intermediate or advanced expertise find that things can go wrong very quickly,” Sgt. Banks stated in a news release. “All we ask is those who visit to research our landscapes, assess your skill level, have the right equipment, know the risks, and Adventure Safely."

      Squamish RCMP

      Other recent fatal incidents in the outdoors over the past month include:

      • a 61-year-old Alberta man who fell unconscious while swimming in Lake Okanagan on August 11;
      • a 20-year-old male Chinese national who drowned at Harrison Lake on August 16;
      • a 34-year Calgary woman who slipped and fell into a river in Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park on August 16;
      • a 29-year-old Kelowna man who did not resurface while swimming near Tug Boat Beach on August 16;
      • a 25-year-old Surrey man who drowned in a lake near Mission on August 16.
      • a five-year-old boy died and a 22-year-old female hiker was injured when a tree fell on a group of hikers in Chilliwack on August 18.

      The B.C. RCMP Underwater Recovery Team (URT) had stated in a news release on August 20 that while they regularly see an increase in drownings during summer months, there had been an increase in drownings in recent months and an increase in new Canadians or foreign nationals who have died in B.C. waters.

      In addition, this year the URT has had to conduct complex recoveries from areas they normally don’t have to.

      “It is thought that people are travelling further into the wilderness given that many of the usual recreational areas have been closed,” URT diving coordinator Sgt. Steven Pebernat said in a news release. “What we are seeing a lot of this year in particular, is individuals who are not familiar with B.C.’s waters getting themselves into precarious and consequential situations by not taking safety precautions and not being informed of the water conditions or their abilities.”

      The B.C. RCMP URT reminds people that as waters in B.C. can be extremely cold and have strong currents, it’s important to research and plan ahead before heading out.