Rescuers transfer rescued people on Saturday in the second event that Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services and Rocky Mountain House Search and Rescue were involved in. The river in the foreground and far background is moving very quickly. Rescuers then went in with their jetboat to bring everyone to safety. (Photo contributed)

Raging North Saskatchewan River causes triple play for rescuers

‘Sheer luck’ that no lives lost on weekend

With nine people rescued over the weekend from three separate incidents on the raging North Saskatchewan River, rescuers are declaring “sheer luck” no lives were lost.

The river has been flowing much faster than normal, and in three separate events Friday and Saturday, canoeists had to be rescued either by the Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services or Rocky Mountain House RCMP. Rocky Mountain House Search and Rescue was also involved in the rescues.

By Saturday afternoon the public was being warned to stay off the river until water levels subsided.

Steve Debienne, Clearwater County regional chief, said Monday that while he is new to the area, long-time staff have told him the river is flowing a lot faster and levels are higher than normal. He attended the two rescues west of Rocky Mountain House that his department was involved in.

“The water is moving faster than it typically is this time of the year, and it’s higher, with the rain and heavier snowpack in the mountains.” The North Saskatchewan’s level has risen 1.5 metres from June 13 to Monday, Debienne said.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand how fast the water’s actually flowing.”

Normally at the time of year, the North Saskatchewan River near Rocky Mountain House flows at about 250 cubic metres per second. On Thursday the river reached 426 cu.m/sec at 7 p.m.. On Friday, at the same time it was flowing at 380 cubic metres per second. By Monday afternoon though it had begun to subside and was down to 295 cu. m/sec, but still above normal.

“It’s been an odd weekend,” Debienne said, because of the number of rescues and “sheer luck” that everyone was safe and sound in the end. “We’re hoping it was just a one-off.”

“Lots of times you can get swept very easily underneath a log or a snag in the water, and it’ll pull you completely underwater. Just the pressure of the water pushing on you, you’re not going to be able to resurface.”

The other thing that was unusual was that the canoeists were able to call for help because their cell phones stayed dry and actually worked, Debienne said.

“Use extreme caution, be prepared when you’re going out there and make sure somebody knows where you’re going and when you’re expected to be back,” he advised.

The first call for help came on Friday for a group of four adults and one youth when their canoe capsized near the Big Horn Dam. They were stranded on a small island and Clearwater Fire rescuers deployed their jet boat to get the individuals back to the main land.

Then on Saturday, Rocky Mountain House RCMP received a report that two males had capsized their canoe in the river near the Saunders Recreation Area. One male was stranded on the north side of the river and one on the south side. RCMP deployed their jet boat to rescue the pair.

Also on Saturday, Clearwater Fire received a request for assistance after another canoe had capsized near the Big Horn Dam, leaving two adults stranded on a logs in the river. Both were wearing personal flotation devices and were rescued.

No injuries were reported in any of the three incidents.

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