Ed Van Heeren, president of Rocky Mountain House Search and Rescue, says some central Alberta rivers are best avoided due to strong currents. (Contributed photo).

Rocky search and rescue crew navigates the risks to recover boater’s body

Boating, rafting not recommended on dangerous West Country rivers

Search and rescue workers recovered the body of a man from the Clearview River after dodging massive tree trunks and other debris carried by the fast-flowing waters.

“It’s very, very dangerous down there,” said Ed Van Heeren, president of Rocky Mountain House Search and Rescue.

He travelled in a jet boat down the river with three others on a grim recovery effort Tuesday.

It was a “rough day,” admitted Van Heeren, whose crew pulled the body of a 34-year-old Calgarian from the river.

The man, who has not been named by police, had been missing since June 30, but the fast-flowing river had been too treacherous for a previous recovery.

The rapid currents — exacerbated by a week of heavy rains along the river’s mountain headwaters — have abated somewhat since Tuesday.

But more rain is forecast for the coming week, leaving provincial river-flow analysts watchful of whether conditions in the West Country near Rocky Mountain House and Caroline will once again worsen.

Van Heeren said Wednesday that only experienced jet boaters should attempt to manoeuvre through the hazardous tree branches and other debris in Clearwater River.

Besides the possibility of being hit by a floating tree trunk, their boat can also be pulled by river currents toward large log jams.

“If the water sucks you under (the jams), very few people would come out alive again,” he cautioned.

Van Heeren said volumes of rain water have widened the Clearwater River, creating new channels along its banks that never existed before.

To avoid the heavy debris coming down the centre of the river, the recovery crew sometimes steered closer to the edge of the widened waterway but then risked plowing into sandbars and submerged vegetation, he said.

No boating or rafting on the Clearwater or North Saskatchewan rivers is being recommended by Alberta Environment. The department has issued stream-flow advisories for the North Saskatchewan and its tributaries.

So far, the Red Deer River’s flow falls within normal levels and no advisories have been issued, said Khaled Akhtar, a river forecast engineer for Alberta Environment.

But with more rain expected over the next six days, he said the province will be keeping an eye on all river flows and it could be issuing more advisories.

Albertans can keep track of the situation through an Alberta Rivers app or the website rivers.alberta.ca.

The deceased Calgary man is thought to have overturned in his boat, as his car and trailer were found parked near the river.

Witnesses had seen him wearing a life jacket. As of Wednesday, there was still no sign of his boat.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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