Two lives were saved in the valley last week after two separate rescue operations took place on Mount Swansea in Windermere and then on Dutch Creek in Fairmont Hot Springs.
Both rescues required victims to be flown by helicopter to the Invermere Hospital, and a subsequent airlift to Calgary.
On Sunday, June 1st, an experienced hang gliding pilot was learning how to paraglide during a lesson with Flying Max, owned and operated by Windermere resident Max Fanderl.
Before the incident, the paragliding pilot, Jamie Hurschler, was atop Mount Swanswea preparing for takeoff. His wing had been properly checked, said Mr. Fanderl, but a slight hesitation during the launch caused half of the wing to give way, forcing Mr. Hurschler to drop onto a rocky patch of the mountain twenty metres below the launch.
“Just before he actually became airborne, there was kind of a hesitation, which made him slow down and go back, but the wing continued forward,” Mr. Fanderl said. “The wind picked him up and carried him, but at the same time one part of the wing collapsed.”
The crash caused Mr. Hurschler to break his pelvis, which required a helicopter lift to safely remove him from the mountainside. A miscommunication with dispatch led Mr. Hurschler to wait three and a half hours on the top of Swansea, according to Mr. Fanderl. Before emergency crews had arrived, Mr. Fanderl and other gliders tended to Mr. Hurschler to stabilize his position.
“He had a lot of help, (his) companions had accessed him and stabilized his position so he wouldn’t slide down the hill any further,” said Panorama deputy fire chief and Columbia Valley Search and Rescue manager Martin Caldwell, who led the Columbia Valley Search and Rescue team that attended the incident. He described the injuries as serious.
Golden and District Search and Rescue Association’s Helicopter External Transport Systems long-line rescue team was needed, said Mr. Caldwell. The long line team attached Mr. Hurschler to the helicopter before flying to the Invermere hospital. From there, he was flown to Foothills hospital in Calgary.
It was the first accident atop Mount Swansea in Mr. Fanderl’s 20 years flying in the area, according to Mr. Fanderl.
“Like anything else you do, whether mountain biking or driving, sometimes there is risk for a small little error,” he said.
Wind conditions at the time were around 10 kilometres per hour, which Mr. Fanderl said is favourable for gliders.
Three days later on Wednesday, June 4th, Mr. Caldwell led a second search and rescue operation in the valley. Shortly before 2 p.m., Columbia Valley RCMP were contacted about an infant who had become separated from her mother during a float down Dutch Creek in Fairmont Hot Springs, after the dinghy capsized. The one-year-old female victim was carried out of sight by a strong current down the creek. She was fortunately wearing an infant-sized personal floatation device.
The victim’s mother, from Radium Hot Springs, was able to prevent her three-month-old son from also being swept away by the water.
The RCMP activated members of the local detachment, in addition to the Columbia Valley Search and Rescue, Swiftwater Recovery Team, Windermere Fire Department, Invermere Fire Department, Panorama Fire Depratment the BC Ambulance Service, and the Columbia Valley Conservation services. Many passerbys also assisted in the rescue.
“We brought boats from the Windermere and Pano (fire departments), Windermere has a power boat and Pano has a whitewater raft,” said Mr. Caldwell. “In this case, we ended up just using swimmers and ground teams.”
A civilian spotted the child, who was wearing a lifejacket, caught in debris on a sandbar in about a metre of water, and directed emergency service workers her way.
After removing the young girl from the river, she was airlifted to the Invermere Hospital. She was then taken by a STARS helicopter to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, arriving in what STARS spokesperson Cam Heke described as critical condition.
“Our crews worked with the Invermere staff to provide the best possible care,” said Mr. Heke. “It was certainly a challenging call.”
The victim arrived at the Invermere hospital about an hour after the RCMP were contacted, said Cpl. Grant Simpson of the Columbia Valley RCMP.
“In this case, the water was moving just a little bit too fast to do a relaxing float,” he commented.
Cpl. Simpson said police had considered pressing charges, but that they probably wouldn’t.
“We realized it will be really tough to pursue charges after we consulted with Crown. It’s quite unlikely,” he said.
According to Cpl. Simpson, hospital and medical staff do not update police on patient conditions unless there is significant and life-threatening changes but, from what he knows, the girl should be okay.
“From what I understand, she’s expected to make a full recovery,” he said.
STARS also does not receive an update on patient conditions once they leave the care of the rescue organization, said Mr. Heke.
The Valley Echo contacted the Alberta Children’s Hospital for an update on the girl’s conditions, but was unable to get comment by Monday’s press deadline.
Neither the RCMP nor STARS are allowed to disclose the names of those involved in the incident or give detailed information on injuries and treatment.
Mr. Caldwell said that, from a Search and Rescue standpoint, both operations were performed extremely well.
“We train together regularly. Nice to see it work when needed,” he said. “It’s nice to have those teams work together — we used multiple teams to get both jobs done.”
Police and rescue workers commended the civilian help in both incidents.