Pemberton SAR warns Nairn Falls visitors to obey rules

Nineteen-year-old Vancouver resident successfully rescued after plummeting into waterfall



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Pemberton Search and Rescue (SAR) is warning the public to obey signs around Nairn Falls after two serious incidents this summer. 


On June 19, a 29-year-old woman fell into the waterfall and disappeared. Pemberton SAR attended the scene, but were unable to locate her body. Then on July 29 a 19-year-old woman from Vancouver climbed over the fence at the lower lookout point of the falls and fell into the water. 


“She fell off a rock,” said Dave Steers, manager of Pemberton SAR. “Instead of going downstream, she got pulled into the back eddy below the waterfall.” 


The woman managed to climb up onto a ledge, but was stuck in a spot where “it was impossible for any of the bystanders standing around — including the fellow she was with — to try and get her out of there,” Steers said. 


When SAR arrived two of the rescuers rappelled down on ropes. One had to swim across a pool, secure the woman and then they were both raised to safety. 


“It was a combination of high angle and swift water rescue,” Steers said. 


In the end, the woman was unharmed “other than being very cold because that water is freezing and she sat in the shade in the misty area for, I would guess, two hours,” Steers said. 


The successful rescue was thanks to a large team, including Whistler Search and Rescue, the RCMP, B.C. Ambulance Service and the Pemberton Fire Department, alongside Pemberton SAR, he added. 


It was uplifting to have a rescue that had a happy ending, Steers said. “Everybody who took part in that rescue is really, really happy with the outcome. We’ve been there so many times where our attendance can make no difference because what was going to happen has happened. The fact that finally here was somebody in trouble that we could do something about was a novel experience. At the end of it, everyone was smiling quite broadly,” he said. 


In June 2014, a 63-year-old man from Switzerland fell into the Green River below Nairn Falls, was swept four kilometres downstream and died. 


After so many incidents, Pemberton SAR wants to remind people that signs and fences are in place for a reason. 


“What people seem to forget is that around a waterfall like Nairn because it’s a waterfall, the water has been running for a long time polishing the rock around the falls,” Steers said. “They’re uber smooth. You combine that with mist that rises from the falls and it’s about as slick a surface as you can find anywhere… I think people just need to respect the area that they’re in and understand that the signs and fences and all that stuff is there for a reason. Bad things happen when those get ignored.” 


To that end, it can be a challenge to educate the throngs of tourists who do the short, easy hike and campers in the busy nearby campsite. 


“What do you do?” Steers asked. “You depend on people to pay attention, but they don’t. They have the same problems in Lynn Canyon (in North Vancouver). It just doesn’t seem to affect behaviour. Our main message is Nairn Falls is a beautiful place. Enjoy it, but be careful; people have died there.”

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