The city’s normally peaceful creeks and streams have turned into fast-moving death traps for the unwary.
And unfortunately in most cases, if someone falls in, efforts will more likely be recovery, not rescue.
“The small creeks are the most dangerous right now because of the runoff and rain we’ve had recently,” said Hamish Reidie, search manager and swift water rescue technician with Penticton Search and Rescue. “The problem is unless you’ve got luck on your side, if you fall into one of those creeks you’re probably going to be a statistic instead of going home to your family.
“The general public just sees a big frothy creek and says: ‘Oh isn’t that neat,’ and they just slip in and there’s not much saving at that point.”
A sad example of the potential danger was an incident last Friday after a Vernon man went missing and is presumed drowned in Cherry Creek in Cherryville.
The 31 year old had been gold panning at the edge of Cherry Creek when he entered the water to retrieve his small dog.
“It appears both were swept downstream,” said RCMP spokesperson Gord Molendyk.
Efforts by the RCMP, with the aid of their helicopter and Vernon Search and Rescue, have been unsuccessful in locating the man.
It was about this time of year in 2006 a young Penticton man fell into an extremely dangerous section of Ellis Creek and drowned.
His body was not found until two weeks later in Skaha Lake.
“Ellis (Creek) is very bad right now and if you stand there beside the bridge you can actually hear the rocks pounding down,” said Reidie. “That water is violent and turbid. Humans are just panicky animals. If a person doesn’t have a path to follow, they just panic and that’s when things go really bad. People drown because they don’t have a path to follow.
“The best advice is don’t put yourself in a position where you’re going to fall in. Period.”
He added that even if rescuers are able to get to the location in time, there is no guarantee they will be able to get into the water.
“I hate to say it, but when we get a call out that somebody’s fallen into one of the creeks, we’re not going to put ourselves in a position where we’re in those creeks and we’re trained professionals,” said the technician. “We go through a very structured process of risk analysis before we go, including is this going to be a viable subject to safely do this operation.”
Because waterways like Penticton Creek have pieces of steel rebar and other manmade items that are concealed below the turbid water, it only increases the dangers to both victim and rescuer.
Water levels will also impact the situation, although Reidie points out the depth is not always a factor.
“Four inches of water roaring down Penticton Creek is just as dangerous as a foot of water,” he said. “Four inches of water is enough to peel you right off your feet. Any water is powerful and relentless and it doesn’t stop for you having an incident.”
In light of the recent accident near Vernon Sgt. Rick Dellebuur of the Penticton RCMP echoed the warnings of Reidie.
“Right now with the water the way it is people have to make sure pets and children are safe and kept back from these rising waters,” he said. “For parents especially because for kids it’s just an attraction but it’s cold and running fast.
“The kids may just be trying to float a stick or boat for fun, and next thing you know they slip and fall in the creek.