Manitoba

Friends of missing Winnipeg boater plead for police, public to search Red River

Friends of a Winnipeg man who disappeared in the Red River's fast, frigid waters say they are desperate for the police and public to help find him.

'To know that he's in the water still and we can't find him ... it makes me sick,' Darryl Firestone says

Brett Oryniak is presumed drowned after the boat he was on took on water and capsized on May 4. (GoFundMe)

Friends of a Winnipeg man who disappeared in the fast, frigid waters of the Red River believe his body may have been spotted and they are urging police and the public to help locate it.

Brett Oryniak, 27, was in a boat with three others when it capsized last Friday near Kildonan Settlers Bridge. Three men managed to make it out of the water to safety but police say Oryniak is presumed to have drowned.

Volunteers have been searching the water and riverbanks ever since and believe they saw a body briefly floating near the bridge at 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday.

Police responded but Darryl Firestone says he is frustrated officials have yet to dive the waters.

Friends of a Winnipeg man who disappeared in the fast, frigid waters of the Red River believe his body may have been spotted and they are urging police and the public to help locate it. 2:05

"Brett's my best friend in the world, he's closer to me than a brother, he's like the other half of me," he said. "To know that he's in the water still and we can't find him and give him a proper burial like he deserves, it makes me sick."

Firestone was in the small aluminum power boat with Oryniak when it flipped. He said the pair had been hanging out at the Forks when they met two other men who offered them a ride on the boat.

'Save me, I'm drowning'

Firestone said they were having a good time until the sun went down. The man who had been driving the boat asked the other man to drive because he was having trouble seeing, Firestone said.

"He started getting drunker and just behaving ridiculously," he said, adding the young man began driving erratically and rocking the boat back and forth. "He thought it was funny that I was freaking out."

The boat eventually tipped and all four men were thrown into the murky waters.

"It went from great night to worst night of my life in 10 seconds," Firestone said. "We tried to swim up to the boat as fast as we could because the current was pulling us."

He and Oryniak tried flipping the boat over but it began taking on water and sinking, he said.

At that point, he decided to swim for shore but said the current was powerful. The only way he managed to fight it was to flip onto his back and try to float above it. He said he yelled at his friend to try the same.

Darryl Firestone, 24, is pleading for police and the public to help find his best friend Brett Oryniak. (CBC News)

"I guess he was just panicking so much he couldn't hear me," he said. "The last thing he said to me was 'Darryl save me, I'm drowning.'"

Once on shore, Firestone said he flagged down a man living nearby to call 911. 

Despite a search by rescuers and the police helicopter, Oryniak has not been found. Earlier this week police said given the depth, speed and temperature of the water, they believe Oryniak is dead.

Firestone, alongside family, friends and volunteer search groups including the Bear Clan and Drag the Red have spent the last several days combing the river and shoreline for any sign of Oryniak.

After receiving a report of what was believed to be a body floating near Kildonan Bridge on Tuesday, Winnipeg police said officers conducted a search, marked the area and made plans to deploy divers Wednesday morning. 

Firestone said officers told volunteer searchers the police divers would arrive around 8 a.m. but they didn't arrive until hours later.

"It was nice out it, it was warm, there was no clouds in the sky," he said. "Where were they? We're just trying to get our friend home and I feel like we're just getting cheated."

Conditions not safe to dive: police

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Police Service said it requires significant time and planning to deploy the underwater recovery team, especially when faced with challenging conditions.

Police attended the area around noon Wednesday and conducted a search by boat using sonar imaging. 

"The results did not support a further search of the area," the spokesperson said, adding conditions were not safe to deploy divers.

He would never give up on me until I was found and I can't give up on him.- Darryl Firestone

"We will continue to assess the search for Mr. Oryniak and it remains a priority for the Winnipeg Police Service." 

Firestone, friends and volunteers continued the search from the river banks in Lockport Wednesday evening.

Sitting on a picnic table outside of Skinners restaurant, they swapped stories about Oryniak.

They described the 27-year-old as spontaneous, always smiling and "the glue" that held all of his friends together.

Darryl Firestone was in the small aluminum power boat with Brett Oryniak when it flipped. He said the pair had been hanging out at the Forks when they met two other men who offered them a ride on the boat. 1:18

"I have to stay strong for Brett," Firestone said. "He would never give up on me until I was found and I can't give up on him."

The search continues on Thursday, starting at the Kildonan Bridge at 9 a.m. Friends are appealing to the public, and anyone with a boat, to join them.

The driver of the boat, a 24-year-old man, was arrested for driving while ability impaired causing death, driving while ability impaired, and causing death by criminal negligence. He was released on a promise to appear in court.