British Columbia

'The worst thing you could do:' search and rescue manager warns against risky river rafting

The rescue of a small child and several adults in swift water on the Campbell River this week has led to a warning from the manager of the local search and rescue team.

Rescue of a child and several adults on Campbell River this week is cautionary tale

A Campbell River SAR manager is warning people not to tie tubes and rafts together when they go for a float down the river. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The manager of the Campbell River Search and Rescue team has a warning for anyone thinking of roping several rafts and tubes together for a float down the river with friends: Don't.

Grant Cromer was part of a rescue team called to a fast-moving section of the Campbell River on Vancouver Island Tuesday when a large group of rafters got themselves into trouble, leaving a small child stranded alone in one of the rafts.

"Several of the rafts and tubes had been lashed together with some rope," said Cromer. "Two of those rafts got wrapped around the bridge pilings on the Campbell River."

The SAR manager said that many of the adults in the 16-person group were dumped from the rafts or separated from the small vessel with the child in it.

That left the girl, who is about three years old by Cromer's estimate, helpless in the river.

Cromer said one SAR member went into the river and managed to cut the rafts free of the piling. They then floated down river to a spot where other rescuers were able to bring the rafts — along with the girl — safely to shore.

"There was a point where the raft was kind of bucketing in the rapids and taking on a little bit water, which did give us some concern," he said, adding that the girl appeared to be the only one in the group wearing a personal flotation device.

Many in the group had managed to get themselves to shore before rescuers arrived, but as many as seven people, including the child had to be rescued.

After the ordeal, everyone safely made it out of the water without injury.

But for Cromer, the incident is a reminder that rivers, even if they seem tame, aren't to be tangled with, and people should avoid them in favour of beaches and lakes.

Members of Campbell River Search and Rescue take part in a recent training exercise in this file photo. (CRSAR)

If people want to float down the river, he said some basic steps will help reduce the risk of a dangerous emergency.

"I guess the big takeaway is never tie two rafts or tubes together. We see that a lot in the summer," said Cromer. This increases the risk of a snag, or one raft upsetting the others. 

"They think there's strength in numbers, but in actuality it's the worst thing you could do."

Beyond that, he said people should wear life jackets and even helmets.

"I know that sounds extreme, but that's what our rescuers wear when they go into the water," he said.

With files from On The Island.