Searchers have recovered the body of a man who went missing after his air mattress overturned Wednesday on Sylvan Lake.
The body of Palwinder Singh, 21, was found Thursday evening near the place where he was last seen floating on the inflatable.
Singh’s cousins and friends were holding a sad vigil at the water’s edge Thursday morning as four boats, including an RCMP watercraft, were making passes through the lake.
The search was happening on the deep water side of the buoys that separates the swimming and boating areas.
Friends say Singh and another man had gone onto the lake on two inflatable mattresses at about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday while the rest of their party were having a barbecue on the grass near the shore.
“We didn’t even know they had gone,” said Maninder Kaloti.
He and Singh’s other friends and relatives are “in shock” now that the reality of the situation is hitting home.
“Last night … we still were thinking (Singh) would come out of nowhere, and we would tell him, ‘We were looking for you,’ ” Kaloti added.
Now that they realize Singh won’t return, he said “it’s hard to believe he is no more.”
Singh and another man had been floating on the swimming side of the string of buoys Wednesday afternoon when Singh’s air mattress was overturned by a wave. In reaching out to try to save him, the other man on a mattress also ended up in the water.
While this man was pulled into a passing dinghy, no one could reach Singh before he disappeared.
Both Singh and the man he was in the water with — who was briefly examined by medics before he returned to Edmonton — were non-swimmers.
Neither was wearing a life jacket, said Kaloti, who believes they either didn’t realize they had floated into deep water or thought they could grab their air mattresses and be saved if they overturned.
Singh’s sad outcome underlines that inflatables will not save you, he added. “It happened in a minute…”
Wednesday’s recreational trip to Sylvan Lake was the first time that Singh had been outside of Edmonton since he arrived in Canada from the Punjab region in India last fall. He was a part-time student, who was also looking for work.
Kaloti said Singh, who wanted to broaden his opportunities in Canada, had planned to attend NorQuest College in Edmonton as a full-time accounting student next month.
His presumed drowning is particularly devastating for his parents in India, who were informed last night, said Kaloti. Singh is survived by a younger brother.
This is the first time search boats were needed on Sylvan Lake this season. Kelly Carter, executive-director of the Lifesaving Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories, said Singh’s presumed death would be the 10th drowning in the province so far this year.
Carter noted the numbers are down over Alberta’s typical 40 to 50 drowning deaths a year— likely because of the cool, drizzly summer.
Most people who die in the water are age 20 to 35 — and 91 per cent of them were not wearing life jackets. Carter believes it’s important to wear life vests at all times if you are a non-swimmer and are going into a lake.
Canada has 400 to 500 drownings a year — “that shocks people who don’t realize how big a problem it is,” added Carter. He believes inflatables are a hazard in open water because the wind can blow them away quickly.
Sharon Alexander who has lived in Sylvan Lake for 42 years, was saddened as she watched the water search on Thursday.
She believes the last time there was a drowning on the lake was in 2017 when a 43-year-old man went missing after his boat capsized. His body was recovered a week later.
That same summer, a 57-year-old woman drowned in Gull Lake after her dinghy flipped. Neither had been wearing life jackets.
Sylvan Lake resident Gladys Richards, a non-swimmer, was also saddened to hear of the latest drowning. Although she rarely goes into the water, herself, Richards urges anyone who’s boating or floating on the lake to wear a life preserver — just in case.