A kayaker reported missing on the Bella Coola River Saturday evening, Aug. 20, was located by search and rescue on the shore just after midnight.
After getting caught up in a logjam due to the current, the kayaker managed to pull himself off the logjam and balance his way out, said Bella Coola Valley Search and Rescue (BCVSAR) vice-president Andrew Stapleton.
“It was a miracle because that type of situation is normally a death sentence,” Stapleton told Black Press Media.
Making it to the shore in between Walker Island and Grant Road, the kayaker built a small fire with a lighter and waited for help.
Stapleton was part of the BCVSAR swiftwater rescue team that was deployed at 10:30 p.m. Saturday evening.
Aboard a 13-and-a-half foot rescue raft, four people with a pilot headed out on the river holding flash lights and wearing head lamps.
“The weather was perfect,” Stapleton said. “We wouldn’t normally go out on a raft in the middle of the night without a few factors working in our favour.”
Ground crews, with support from locals, Nuxalk Guardian watchmen and the RCMP, searched a number of access points along the river at the same time.
When the swiftwater rescue crew spied the kayaker’s fire they gave a few whistle blasts and he started yelling back.
“We were happy to see that. I also hope he saw us too because of all our flash lights,” Stapleton said.
The rescue crew ended up having difficulties because they could not get up and out of the logjam area safely, at least not at night, he said.
Instead they eddied the rescue raft just above the logjam and pulled out of the water.
After reaching the kayaker and weighing their options, the SAR crew decided the least dangerous plan was to wait until daybreak to leave the area.
Building a bigger fire they stayed with the kayaker through the night.
Their only real concern was bears because it is peak season with the salmon run.
Once daylight arrived, a helicopter flew in to transport the kayaker. Additional ground support was brought in to assist in recovering all the equipment used in the rescue and Nuxalk Guardians were stationed downstream to provide containment from an access point on the south side of the river.
The Bella Coola River flow is flowing fairly high for this time of year, but not “ludicrous,” Stapleton said.
“We are still getting melt and runoff from the mountains, which we wouldn’t normally have this time of year. We had so much snow and such a cool June and July that most of it didn’t seem to melt off the way it normally would.”
BCVSAR posted about the rescue on Facebook, thanking everyone involved and reminding locals to limit information sharing during rescue missions because on Saturday evening there were some unaccounted-for-searchers being mistaken for the missing kayaker and some miscommunication.
“We have had searches in the past where we rely on the public, but we really want them to come to us so we know who is out there and what they are doing,” Stapleton said.