A man tubing down the Puntledge River late Wednesday afternoon has died following rescue attempts by friends, a Search and Rescue crew and even an off-duty firefighter.
Comox Valley RCMP confirm a 42-year-old-man, who was new to the area, got separated from his group tubing down the river.
“This male had admitted to his friends earlier that he wasn’t a strong swimmer and he wasn’t wearing a PFD (personal flotation device), his friends found him floating in the water. His friends starting performing CPR on him,” noted Const. Kelly Godard.
“We are so thankful to his friends — they were taking direction from the RCMP on how to perform CPR and they were at it for quite a long time. They really did give his friend a fighting chance,” she added.
Courtenay Fire Chief Don Bardonnex said they got called to the river around 5:30 p.m., and set up communications with BC Ambulance and RCMP.
“The patient was found face down in the water, they started CPR, we got our crews set up and set SAR (Search and Rescue) on scene. SAR put their boats in the water upstream and floated down, retrieved the patient, brought him downstream and now they’re in the process of just wrapping up getting the other four victims off the water,” he explained.
Bardonnex added there were five people on Dumas Island with the victim, when one of his off-duty firefighters was coming downstream.
“One of our officers was coming downstream on a tube, saw someone on the bank and saw the victim on the Island and dumped his tube and swam over for assistance. He was doing CPR with the people who were already on the Island until SAR got there to evacuate the patient out.”
Paul Berry, search manager and president of the Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue (CVGSAR), said about 20 members quickly arrived on scene, including those trained in swift water rescue.
He added the patient was in cardiac arrest and team members used their automated external defibrillator and continued CPR until arriving at Puntledge Park where the patient was taken away by ambulance.
“It’s a popular spot, (but) a medical condition can happen anywhere. It’s a beautiful spot, lots of people were out there with life jackets on with their tubes so some were acting safely, we were just hoping everyone would,” he said.
Some members of a second group of people upstream who witnessed the incident on Indian Rock were assisted by CVGSAR to cross the river safely.
“It’s nice that we have that many volunteers in the Valley willing to jump to someone else’s aid, but in all honesty, I wish those people wouldn’t be in those positions in the first place,” noted Bardonnex.
Godard added even a strong swimmer can get fooled by the fast moving water and debris.
“You don’t know what’s under there. There’s rocks, there’s trees, there’s debris. Whether you’re a strong swimmer or not, it’s in your best interest, your friends best interest, and your families’ best interest to definitely wear a PFD.”
RCMP will be working with the B.C. Coroner’s office to determine the cause of death. Alcohol is believed to have played a role, along with the fact the man was a non swimmer, noted police.