Whistler RCMP and local search and rescue personnel are waiting for the water level to drop in the Cheakamus River so they can continue searching for the body of a woman believed to have drowned on Saturday (Aug. 6).
The 25-year-old woman from the Lower Mainland is believed to still be submerged in the river after she and a male companion, a 30-year-old Lower Mainland resident, were swept away in the water while on a guided fishing tour south of Whistler. While the man's body was found about 700 metres to a kilometre downstream just over an hour after the two were swept away Saturday afternoon, as of Tuesday evening (Aug. 9) there was no sign of the woman -even after extensive searching by helicopter and kayak.
Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair of the Whistler RCMP was part of a search group that again scoured the river by helicopter on Tuesday afternoon. The searchers flew low over the river from the point where the pair was fishing to Daisy Lake and around the lake's perimeter.
"No luck," LeClair said. "We'll wait until the water levels drop in the river."
Members of Whistler Search and Rescue will again search the river by kayak when the water level drops, he added.
In the meantime police have posted signs in areas of the river where kayakers enter and exit, asking people to be on the lookout for signs of the missing woman.
"The investigation is focused now on finding her," LeClair said.
It was about 3:45 p.m. on Saturday when a local fly-fishing guide called 911 to report that her clients had been swept away in the Cheakamus River about 15 km south of Whistler. LeClair said the group was fishing near a footbridge that crosses over the river as part of the Sea to Sky Trail, across Highway 99 from the Callaghan Forest Service Road.
The three were standing in ankle-deep water wearing hip-waders. The water in that particular area of the river was "moving at a walking pace," LeClair said.
"That area looks quite innocuous," he added.
The woman hooked a fish and somehow began moving into deeper water. She lost her footing and fell into the river, LeClair said. She wasn't able to stand again, though the fishing guide yelled for her to do so.
The man jumped in and grabbed her, attempting to help. They were swept away in the current together and ended up in much deeper and swifter-moving water, LeClair said.
Whistler Search and Rescue was immediately activated by helicopter. The man was seen floating face down at about 5:15 p.m. and searchers located the body in what was described as "difficult terrain."
It's believed the man was swept under the water by logs or other debris and then he resurfaced. A family member described him as a "strong swimmer," LeClair said.
The search continued for the woman until nightfall on Saturday and resumed Sunday morning. Search efforts were suspended early Sunday afternoon. It's believed the woman is submerged in the river, possibly under logs or other natural features.
When asked if conditions on the river were safe for fishing at the time, LeClair referred to the incident as "unexpected."
"We have not had a whole lot of incident like this in the Whistler area. It's the first one of my memory," he said. "It's not something you would expect to happen."
LeClair added that neither the fishing company or guide are being investigated for negligence.
At the request of the missing woman's family, police are not releasing the names of either individual.