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Saskatchewan family rescued from B.C. river

CVSAR swift water teams are pictured on the Puntledge River. May 11, 2023. (CTV News) CVSAR swift water teams are pictured on the Puntledge River. May 11, 2023. (CTV News)
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Just days after BC Hydro issued warnings to the public to stay out of the Puntledge River system on Vancouver Island, three individuals had to be rescued off a small island in the middle of the river Thursday evening.

BC Hydro is releasing water to manage levels at Comox Lake, resulting in the river running at twice the flow it normally does at this time of year.

RCMP, the Courtenay Fire Department, the BC Ambulance Service and Comox Valley Search and Rescue (CVSAR) all attended the call for people requiring assistance at 6:45 p.m.

CVSAR swift water teams are pictured on the Puntledge River. May 11, 2023. (CTV News)"We were aided by the Courtenay Fire Department and we put our swift water team in and removed the male and the two kids off of one of the islands in the river," said CVSAR member Scott Larsen.

The family is apparently from Saskatchewan and the trio was on a single flotation device when they reached a fork in the river below the Puntledge fish hatchery and lost the device.

"It certainly is high volumes, but they probably didn’t realize this is the high volumes we encounter at this location," Larsen said.

Swift water rescue team member Rob McMath says the family was very pleased to see their rescuers.

"They’d been on the island for about an hour and a half," McMath said. "It's about 18 degrees out so not too cold, but they were still damp and they were eager to get home and get warm."

Comox Valley Search and Rescue swift water teams are pictured on the Puntledge River. May 11, 2023. (CTV News)He says the fast-moving water created a challenge for the team members who had been practicing on the river just days earlier.

"Definitely more challenging than normal because of the speed. We didn’t have too much problem but I wouldn’t recommend novice recreational paddlers on the river at the moment," said McMath.

WARNINGS ISSUED

Warning signs advising people to keep out of the river from May 5 to 14 are posted at various locations, and on Friday morning the notice of high flows was changed to read until May 18.

BC Hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson says right now water flows are double what they normally would be, and will increase on Sunday and Monday to triple the amount.

"We’ve had a lot of snowmelt come into the system over the past few weeks, and that’s increased, and so the reservoir level has been coming up," he said.

"We’ve been controlling the reservoir. It’s actually moved down a little bit to have a bit of room," he added.

Watson says flows will increase from 65 cubic metres per second up to 90 and the situation will be reviewed next week to see if it needs to continue until the end of May.

Watson says on a typical summer day, upwards of 500 people can be in the river system, but he cautions that conditions are still too fast to enjoy the water safely right now.

"There’s an inclination to escape the heat and come into the river system, but it’s not the time to do that," he said.

"The hydraulics of the river system – it only takes 15 to 30 centimetres to knock down an adult, so please stay away and try to find some other locations to escape that heat." 

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