British Columbia

Cultus Lake drowning death dashes family business dreams, leaves parents in Punjab struggling

Surrey international student Manpreet Singh, 22, drowned Saturday while swimming near Entrance Bay at Cultus Lake, despite a stranger's desperate attempt to save him.

'Talented in every field. I called him 'Lucky, Lucky, Lucky.' We are so sad,' says Manpreet Singh's cousin

Surrey student Manpreet Singh, 22, was intending to move to Winnipeg to start a business with his cousins, but died in a drowning accident at Cultus Lake on Saturday. (Jagpal Singh)

Surrey international student Manpreet Singh, 22, drowned Saturday while swimming near Entrance Bay at Cultus Lake, despite a stranger's desperate attempt to save him.

The tragedy came days before he was set to move to Winnipeg and embark on a family dream.

Chilliwack RCMP say the rescuer found Singh underwater and pulled him to shore, but he could not be saved.

Singh's cousin Jagpal Singh said 10 friends were swimming when three of them got into trouble in deeper water. Two of the swimmers were saved by a stranger who was able to somehow reach them and pull them to safety.

But his cousin Manpreet was further away, past a sudden underwater drop-off and slipped under the murky waves, before the rescuer could help him.

Paramedics were called to Cultus Lake around 3 p.m. on July 25. (Shane MacKichan)

"A guy saved two of them — and he's like light weight so a wave pushed him, so due to that he was unable to save [Manpreet]," Jagpal said in a telephone interview from Ottawa Wednesday.

The death of the talented young man, dubbed "Lucky" by family, ended Singh's dream of starting a business with four cousins in Manitoba. 

Singh moved to Canada from the Punjab region of India in 2017.

Family say as a child he always shone, a top athlete and student.

"He was so smart, so intelligent and talented in every field. I called him 'Lucky, Lucky, Lucky.' We are so sad. It's too much to handle," said his cousin Navdeep Kaur, 23, speaking from Manpreet Singh's family home in Gurdaspur where she is staying with his parents.

'He loved to play'

Family said that Singh was completing a degree at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey and had plans to move to Winnipeg to reunite with his cousins and start launching a new venture.

They hadn't decided exactly what the business would be, but they were determined to do it together, according to Singh.

Kewalpal Singh, left, stands beside his cousin Manpreet Singh, middle, and his younger brother Jagpal Singh, right, at the Guilford Mall in Surrey B.C. in May of 2019. (Jagpal Singh)

He described how his uncle used his only income, a pension that he received as an ex-serviceman in India and took out other loans to finance Manpreet's flight and tuition.

Manpreet graduated in December and got a work permit in April and started working cleaning offices full time after that to send money home to help his parents, said Singh.

Cousins Jagpal of Amritsar and Manpreet of Gurdaspur spent vacations together like brothers and were six months apart in age. Now, Jagpal says he is trying to raise $35,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to return his younger cousin's body home and help support his aunt and uncle who exhausted their savings and took out loans to fund the family dream.

"Everyone in our family says he's the best one," said Jagpal Singh.

"He was decent, good personality as well, good in studies and a good athlete. He had won so many prizes from the school," he said.

He says his cousin was a top-prize sprinter and impressive cricketer but loved all sport.

"He loves to play. He loved to play anything." 

Jagpal said his cousin was athletic but not an experienced swimmer, when he headed to Cultus Lake on July 25.

Singh was the second person to drown in the area in recent weeks. On May 11 another 22-year-old from India was near the Vedder Bridge where people often cliff dive, when he drowned in the Chilliwack River.

Manpreet Singh, 22, drowned July 25 at Cultus Lake. (Jagpal Singh/Go Fund Me)

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend

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