The summer of 2020 was one of the busiest ever for the Shuswap Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR) station on Shuswap Lake and it was capped off with a complicated rescue on the evening of Sept. 9.
After the rescue boat had sat idle through the Labour Day long weekend, station leader Fred Banham thought his crews were in for a break after going on several missions throughout August. A call from the Murdock Point area set off the most dramatic mission of the summer.
Banham said a man from a group on a houseboat had fallen nine metres from a cliff above the lake he was hiking up and come to rest on a ledge. The call from his companions to emergency services had to be relayed by a passing boater as the cliffs in the area created a cell-service dead zone. Trees in the area made a helicopter rescue impossible, so Banham said a boat rescue was needed.
After loading up a total of six paramedics – two who were from a medevac helicopter which landed in Sicamous, along with two RCMP officers, the RCMSAR crew headed for the site of the accident in the ‘Tolonen’ rescue boat. Banham said first responders had to scramble up a further nine metres of rock and boulders to reach the injured man. Banham said it was believed he suffered a head injury in the fall. After the man was loaded onto a stretcher, Banham said he had to be carefully lowered down to the boat inch by inch.
After he was safely on the boat, Banham said the injured man was taken to Sicamous and then evacuated by helicopter to Kamloops.
Banham described the cooperation between the emergency services required for the rescue as a work of art.
The cliffside rescue was the 37th call-out of the year for RCMSAR Station #106. Banham said the year the station was formed in 2012, 50 calls were received, but 2020 seems likely to be the station’s second busiest year on record. Many of the calls came in August and some were a little outside the RCMSAR station’s usual mission.
When the Marble Point wildfire began to spread on the hillside above Shuswap Lake in early August, the RCMSAR boat was used to ferry wildfire fighters and equipment to the site of the blaze as there was no road access.
Firefighters also jumped aboard the rescue vessel when a houseboat caught fire while pulled up to shore on the west shore of Mara Lake. Banham said all of the houseboat’s occupants had safely escaped and the boat had burned to the waterline by the time they arrived. Sicamous Fire Department members wet down the brush around the burning boat to ensure it did not cause another forest fire.
Along with the fires, the RCMSAR boats responded to medical emergencies out on the lake as they usually do. Banham said one houseboater suffered a dramatic injury in a windstorm which could have been far worse. The RCMSAR station was called to help get a man with a badly broken arm to safety. It was caused by the metal spike used to secure the houseboat to the beach, which had pulled loose as the boat rocked in the wind. Banham said the spike was launched towards the man and it was only his quick reflex of raising his arm that saved him from potentially fatal injuries.
In total the RCMSAR volunteers logged 52.8 hours on water mission time with 13 different crew members volunteering 179.52 hours in August. A total of 21 responses made it the busiest month ever for the station.
Banham said the station’s volunteers are eagerly awaiting a return to their normal training schedule which was put on hold by RCMSAR headquarters due to the COVID-19 pandemic.