Officers fell through ice, made multiple attempts to save Howard Lavers
Agreed statement of facts details wildlife officer's final day on the job
The Newfoundland and Labrador government has released harrowing details outlining what happened the day wildlife officer Howard Lavers died on the Northern Peninsula — including accounts from two colleagues who made multiple attempts to save him.
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According to agreed statement of facts, Lavers was conducting "a routine investigation of a firearms violation" on the day he died.
Lavers, 57, met two male colleagues — identified in the report as Officers A and B — at his cabin on Eastern Blue Pond before heading out on snowmobile at approximately 1:30 p.m.
Weather conditions were described as "fair" on Feb. 21, 2013.
The report said none of the officers were wearing personal floatation devices and ice thickness on the pond wasn't checked. There was no policy in place at the time requiring that officers check the thickness of the ice.
As the group approached an area called "the narrows," Officer B came across open water.
While Officer B's snowmobile broke through the ice, he was able to get to safety and gestured to Officer A to avoid the dangerous area.
When Lavers approached, Officer B attempted the same arm gestures, but Lavers increased his speed and steered closer to the open water.
He was getting very cold and would not be able to hang on much longer.- Agreed Statement of Facts
Lavers' snowmobile went through the ice and disappeared "very quickly."
The report said Lavers tried jumping towards the unbroken ice near his colleagues.
"Lavers went into the water and, upon surfacing, called for help while being submersed in water to his shoulder/neck area, and holding onto the ice edge," the statement reads.
Multiple rescue attempts
In his first rescue attempt, Officer A approached Lavers with a rope. He, however, broke through the ice and went into the water as well.
The officer was able to pull himself from the water and he then rolled to safety.
He too went through the ice, but Officer A pulled him to safety with the rope.
The report said several attempts were made to throw a rescue rope to Lavers, but high winds made it impossible.
Officer A tied a rescue shovel to the end of the rope to weigh it down, but the pair were still unable to reach Lavers.
"Officer B broke through the ice several times while trying to attempt this rescue and was assisted out each time by Officer A," the report reads.
'He was getting very cold'
Lavers, the report goes on to read, told the officers "he was getting very cold and would not be able to hang on much longer."
The men then tied a tree stump to the rope in an attempt to add more weight.
The men told Lavers to drop his service belt, but the officer said he couldn't because that would mean letting go of the ice.
The report said that Lavers was eventually able to grab hold of the rope. That's when Officer A tied it to a snowmobile and attempted to pull Lavers out of the water.
While he was pulled partially out for a time, the ice broke again and Lavers "went completely under."
The men said it sounded like the man swallowed water during the ordeal. Again, they attempted to use a snowmobile to pull Lavers out but were unable to gain traction.
It was "observed that only Officer Lavers hand could be seen and then the hand slipped beneath the surface. There was no sight of Officer Lavers after this time."
According to the statement, Officer B "was severely shaking and appeared to be in bad shape" at this point.
The pair returned to Lavers's cabin where they called the enforcement office and waited for help to arrive.
The next day, an RCMP dive team searched the area. Lavers's body was located near the edge of the hole where the emergency rope was located.
He was wearing his full uniform — including winter jacket, snow pants, gloves, rubber boots and a duty belt containing a firearm.
That same day, fish and wildlife enforcement — a division of the Department of Justice and Public Safety — ceased all snowmobile patrols pending a review.
Last week, the province formally apologized for its role in the death of Howard Lavers.
The apology and acknowledgement of its role in Lavers's death came about a month after the province was sentenced for three violations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The government was fined $70,000 for failing to provide proper training, for not having a "travelling over ice" policy and for failing to mandate that officers wear available protective equipment.
A portion of that fine will go towards public education and training.